Written by Kylie Lucas, Pharmacist.
Imagine a world without antibiotics. Minor infections could become serious, life-threatening issues. Some surgical procedures may no longer be possible. The very young, the very old and those with conditions such as cystic fibrosis, cancer or organ transplants would be particularly vulnerable.
Modern medicine has come a long way since the first antibiotic, Penicillin, was discovered in 1928 and began to be used therapeutically in the 1940s. Antibiotics have enabled us to make advances in many fields of health and medicine and achieve a greater life expectancy. However, with time and widespread use of these drugs, resistant bacteria are becoming a major concern and are having a big impact on people who are unfortunate enough to develop resistant types of infections.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. Some strains of bacteria are naturally resistant to certain antibiotics. Other bacteria can adapt to develop resistance after exposure to an antibiotic. Bacteria are able to change so that they are no longer susceptible to the antibiotic’s action. When this happens, the antibiotic will no longer work against that type of infection.
You may have heard of some cases of antibiotic resistance within your network of friends and family. For example, a person may have complications after a standard surgical procedure such as a knee replacement if they are exposed to bacteria such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (also known as MRSA, a type of “golden staph”). Or perhaps you know someone who had to take two different types of antibiotics before their urinary tract infection was cured. Antibiotic resistance is a very real problem, affecting Australians in hospitals and in the wider community.
What can you do to slow the spread of antibiotic resistance?
- Practise good personal hygiene to avoid catching and spreading infections. Strategies include effective hand washing and covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
- If you are prescribed antibiotics, take them as instructed (without skipping doses) and take the full course (do not stop simply because you feel better).
- Be informed about your medications and how to take them properly – you can easily access the Consumer Medication Information within the handy MedAdvisor app. Your GP and pharmacist are also great sources of information.
- Don’t save leftover antibiotics (or repeat prescriptions) for the next time you are sick.
- Don’t give your antibiotics to someone else, even if they have the same symptoms as you.
- Dispose of unwanted or unneeded antibiotics by returning them to your pharmacist. Throwing them into the rubbish or pouring them down the sink or toilet can cause antibiotics to enter the environment, where resistant genes can spread to other bacteria within the ecosystem.
Of course, there are many occasions when treatment with antibiotics will be absolutely necessary – and you should always follow your doctor’s advice. Sensible and appropriate use of these important medications will help ensure their effectiveness in the years to come. Remember that your local pharmacist is available to help with any questions or concerns you may have about this subject.
This post was written by Kylie Lucas. Kylie has been a pharmacist for over 10 years and works in a country town pharmacy in the south west of Western Australia. She lives on a farm with her husband, daughter and lots of pet animals.