HSE marks European Antibiotic Awareness Day

People reminded to only take antibiotics when prescribed

Today (Friday, 18th November), is European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) and the HSE is reminding people on how best to use antibiotics. This is an annual event to remind everyone how valuable antibiotics are, how important it is that we only use them when we need them, and to highlight that these amazing drugs are under threat from the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Things to remember when taking antibiotics:

  • Antibiotics can cause more harm than good if taken unnecessarily
  • COVID-19, influenza, and colds are viral infections – antibiotics will not work for viral infections and may cause side effects like stomach upsets, headaches, rashes, nausea
  • The public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 will also stop the spread of usual winter viruses that cause coughs, colds, sore throats, earache and flu
  •  If you do need to take antibiotics take them as prescribed; contact your healthcare worker if you have any serious side effects
  • Take care of yourself and learn to treat common illnesses that do not require antibiotics, use the advice at www.undertheweather.ie
  • Never share antibiotics or take them without a prescription
  • Stay home if feeling unwell.

Dr Eimear Brannigan, HSE National Clinical Lead for Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control (AMRIC) says, “Antibiotics are amazing drugs that eliminate bacteria but are usually very safe for us. The first antibiotic, salvarsan, was used in 1910. In just over 100 years, antibiotics have transformed modern medicine and extended the average human lifespan by 23 years. The discovery of penicillin in 1928 started the golden age of natural product antibiotic discovery that peaked in the mid-1950s.

“Unfortunately, over the last 100 years or so, a lot of antibiotics have been used in people, in animals and on crops when they were not appropriate. Because of all the antibiotic use many bacteria have changed meaning that antibiotics no longer work as well as did 20 years ago. This is known as antibiotic resistance.  Antibiotics can cause more harm than good if taken unnecessarily.  COVID-19, influenza and colds are viral infections – antibiotics don't work for viral infection.”

Dr Scott Walkin, GP and ICGP lead for Antimicrobial Resistance says, “A key message of EAAD is to use antibiotics only when they are likely to help someone who is sick to get better. Antibiotics don’t help you to get better faster if the infection is caused by a virus such as COVID-19, colds or flu. As a GP I still get some requests for antibiotics from people who have viral infections such as colds and flus or for their children. Antibiotics will not help them get better and in fact can cause side effects like upset tummies, nausea or skin rash. It is safer for you not to take an antibiotic you don’t need because antibiotics, like all medicines, can have side effects.”

The HSE, in partnership with general practitioners and pharmacists, has a website which gives practical, common sense advice and information on dealing with many common illnesses like colds, flu, earaches, sore throats, tummy bugs and rashes. www.undertheweather.ie provides sound advice to give us the confidence and skills we need to take care of ourselves and our families without resorting to antibiotics. 

The most effective weapon against common viral infections is your body’s immune system. The best way to treat symptoms of most common viral infections is rest, drink fluids and take paracetamol or ibuprofen. It is still important to get checked by your GP if you are worried especially for very young children, older people and those with long-term medical conditions or whose immune system is suppressed.

Your GP will be able to judge if you are likely to have an infection that needs treatment with an antibiotic. If your GP says you do not need an antibiotic this is good news because antibiotics should only be taken for when you need them to treat a bacterial infection.

Last updated on: 18 / 11 / 2022