Resistance to antibiotics is a major world-wide problem, but it’s happening in Australia too. Antibiotic resistance is a serious health issue that is already present in communities around the country, including Broken Hill and the Far West.
This week is World Antibiotic Awareness Week (November 12-18) and the focus is on improving our understanding about the threat to human health posed by antibiotic resistance.
At its simplest, antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change to protect themselves from an antibiotic. This means the antibiotic no longer works to kill those bacteria, said Ruth Martin, Chief Pharmacist, Far West Local Health District.
“Many bacteria that develop resistance share that resistance with other types of bacteria, making the antibiotic less or ineffective against many different bacteria – this is called “multi-resistance”.
“Also, like any other infection, we can spread resistant types of bacteria to people around us, including friends and family. If they develop an infection from those bacteria, it will be harder to treat,” said Ms Martin.
Australia has one of the highest antibiotic prescription rates in the world with more than 30 million prescriptions dispensed annually in Australia. In 2015 approximately 45% of Australians were prescribed at least one course of antibiotics.
Ms Martin said many of these prescriptions are unnecessary. “Despite antibiotics not being effective against common coughs, colds and flu (which are mostly caused by viruses), antibiotics are being prescribed for these conditions at up to nine times the recommended rate.”
There are lots of reasons why our prescription rate is high: uncertainty about the diagnosis, not following current guidelines, and importantly the expectation from many of us that doctors should write scripts for antibiotics – ‘just in case’.
“The good news is we can all help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics by being part of the solution,” said Ms Martin.
Simple things we can do include:
- Prevention is better than cure! Stay home if you are unwell; practise good hand hygiene – wash your hands regularly with normal soap and water; thrown away tissues after use; eat well and follow a healthy lifestyle.
- Remember coughs and colds caused by viruses get better on their own. Antibiotics don’t make them better any faster.
- Check with your doctor that antibiotics are really necessary. Ask your doctor how long you should take them. Don’t share antibiotics with others and don’t use leftovers next time you are sick (they may not be effective against the infection).
“As a community, we can slow down antibiotic resistance by only using antibiotics when they are really needed. It’s time to take antibiotics seriously,” said Ms Martin.