Taking the wrong medication for an illness could be contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Antibiotics are in danger of losing their effectiveness due to misuse and overuse, and are in many cases not even necessary.

Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries will become untreatable.

These are just two messages from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which the Life Healthcare Group, a leading private hospital provider in South Africa, is highlighting to educate the public during World Antibiotic Awareness (13 – 19 November 2017).

“The misuse of antibiotics over the past few decades has contributed to an alarming increase in bacterial resistance, which has since 2014 continuously been highlighted by the WHO as one of the biggest threats to public health today,” says Dr Paul Soko Executive Head of Clinical Services and Quality at Life Healthcare Group.

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Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era

Dr Soko adds that antibiotic-resistant infections often result in increased length of hospital stay, medical costs and mortality.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics being used to fight off infections.

Antibiotic-resistant infections are complex and difficult to treat.  According to the WHO, antibiotic resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics.

When antibiotics should and should not be used

“It is important that the public is aware that globally we are running out of effective antibiotics. Antibiotics should only be used for bacterial infections that the body’s own immune response cannot fight, and only when a doctor prescribes them,” says Dr Soko.

He says that common colds and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria, meaning that antibiotic therapy would be ineffective to treat these infections.

Common colds and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria, meaning that antibiotic therapy would be ineffective to treat these infections

“By using antibiotic treatment unnecessarily, other bacteria in the environment as well as the ‘healthy’ bacteria in the body gets the opportunity to develop resistance due to exposure, which can potentially cause antibiotic-resistant infections later on,” says Dr Soko.

He says that the need for antibiotic use can be reduced by ensuring that all vaccinations are up to date.

“Vaccine-preventable diseases often lead to secondary bacterial infections necessitating the use antibiotics, which could have been prevented if vaccines were up to date.”

Antibiotic use guidelines

Given the seriousness of the threat, Life Healthcare urges people to take note of the following guidelines:

  • Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a medical doctor
  • Never demand antibiotics if your doctor says you don’t need them
  • Always follow your healthcare professional’s advice when using antibiotics
  • Never share or use leftover antibiotics
  • Prevent infections by regularly washing your hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practising safer sex, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing and keeping vaccinations up to date

“We are all responsible for preserving the effectiveness of the only effective antibiotics we have left, whether we prescribe, dispense, provide advice or need to take them,” concludes Dr Soko.

Sources: Life Healthcare Group and World Health Organisation: Antibiotic resistance fact sheet 

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.