How to beat antibiotic resistance

One of the biggest medical concerns globally is the increasing amount of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Here’s a guide on how to avoid them.

Antibiotics are the life-saving medicines that have been treating bacterial infections and diseases since the 1940s. But they’re no longer working as well as they used to, with public health experts claiming overuse and misuse being mostly to blame for the increasing lack of efficiency. Growing too is the amount of bacteria immune or resistant to antibiotics. There are some small things that you, personally, can do to help.

What is it?

There are many different types of antibiotics, used to treat a range of infections from pneumonia and whooping cough to UTIs and skin infections. When these antibiotics are taken incorrectly or too often, the infection-causing bacteria can mutate and become resistant to the medicine. This is known as antibiotic resistance, and makes bacterial infections much harder to treat.

To make matters worse, these mutated bacteria can pass genetic material on to other bacteria, forming a new resistant strain also known as “superbugs”.

Where it’s happening

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to our health today and needs an urgent response. If not reversed, the problem is predicted to kill 10 million people globally.

And it’s right here in our backyard. In Australia, some types of UTIs and Golden staph, a common cause of skin infections, have developed resistance to antibiotics.

In fact, we have one of the highest rates of antibiotic use in the world. A recent report by The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare revealed around half of the Australian population were prescribed at least one course of antibiotics in 2014-15. Worryingly, more than half of people suffering from colds and other upper respiratory tract infections were prescribed antibiotics unnecessarily.

Global problem, individual solution

One of the biggest myths surrounding antibiotic resistance is that it can’t be reversed. However, since it’s the bacteria, not our immune system, that are becoming resistant, there are ways to fight back. Here’s how you can do your part.

  • Don’t request antibiotics for a cold or flu. Simply put, the common cold and influenza virus does not respond to antibiotics because it’s usually not caused by a bacterial infection. The not-for-profit organisation NPS MedicineWise points out that some people think they feel better on antibiotics for cold or flu, when in fact it’s actually just their body’s immune system doing what it naturally does best.
  • Don’t take shortcuts even if you feel better. If you’re using antibiotics, take the prescribed dose and complete the full course. Failure to do so increases the
    chance that some bacteria will survive and mutate. This is how a lot of drug resistant infections multiply.
  • Avoid passing it on with good hygiene. If you develop a superbug it can survive in your body for as long as one year and be passed on to family members or workmates through coughing and contaminated hands, so practicing proper hygiene is a good habit. Wash your hands regularly and cover your mouth when you cough.
  • Don’t skip your vaccinations. The WHO recommends all people keep their vaccinations up to date to prevent infections in the first place. Vaccinating against whooping cough is a great example.