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Antibiotics Awareness Week - why it is a concern for us all

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Kate Oates, Antimicrobial Pharmacist with the Trust blogs about Antibiotics Awareness Week and why antibiotics awareness is so important...

Antibiotics– how many of us have taken them at some point? I can guarantee that the overwhelming majority have been prescribed them in the past. For some they bring about a swift resolution to a minor infection while for others they are quite simply life saving.  However, the worrying story of antibiotics is that we are running out of them due to a combination of overuse and misuse. Bacteria have been around for a long time –they are clever and they are adapting – and this is not good news for any of us.

Some 25,000 people die each year across Europe from infections that are resistant to antibiotics and it is 30 years since a new class of antibiotics was introduced, despite the growing numbers of infections that are resistant. Indeed a recent study found that the likelihood of GPs prescribing antibiotics for coughs and colds increased by 40% between 1999 and 2011.

This is why, in my role as the Trust’s Antimicrobial Pharmacist, I am raising awareness of the situation during World Antibiotic Awareness Week (16-20 November).  The campaign aims to increase awareness of global antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policy makers to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.

Research has shown that only 10% of sore throats and 20% of acute sinusitis benefit from antibiotic treatment but the prescription rates are much higher and it is estimated that annually, across the EU, lost productivity and annual healthcare expenses due to antibiotic resistant bacteria costs 1.5 billion Euros.

Antibiotic resistance has been classed as one of the greatest threats facing the world today. The Chief Medical Officer for England, professor Dame Sally Davies, in her annual report in 2013 described the threat of antimicrobial resistance as ‘catastrophic’and warned that there is the real possibility that people admitted to hospital in 20 years time for minor surgery would be at risk of death from an ordinary infection that would no longer respond to antibiotics.

One of the major problems is the lack of new antibiotics being developed, with antibiotics introduced since the 1980s being new versions of old drugs, but with no new class of antibiotics launched. It is understandable why this area of development is not a priority for the pharmaceutical companies when any new antibiotic that is marketed is highly restricted as we know it is a precious resource and courses for antibiotics are generally only for a week or two –commercially it makes much more sense to prioritise drugs for long term conditions that will be prescribed for a number of years for an individual patient.

So what can we do as healthcare professionals?  Well, a number of things, but here are a few to start with.

You can make a personal pledge to use antibiotics wisely and sign up to be an antibiotic guardian at www.antibioticguardian.com. There are pledges for healthcare professionals, the public, students and educators.

If you are someone who prescribes antibiotics please read and use this checklist to help make decisions about prescribing antibiotics:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/366944/Secondary_care_prescribers_checklist.pdf

This video, produced by Public Health England is only 2 minutes long and well worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HN5ultN7JaM

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog – together we can all help to safeguard antibiotics for the future, for the next generation and ourselves.

Kate

About the Author

Kate is an Antimicrobial Pharmacist at The Countess of Chester Hospital and is responsible for the Trust's antibiotic stewardship

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