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World Antimicrobial Awareness Week: The Importance of Using Antibiotics Responsibly

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week: The Importance of Using Antibiotics Responsibly

A study published in early 2022 discovered antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to be the direct cause of 1.27 million deaths globally in 2019, while it’s estimated that a failure to address AMR could lead to 10 million deaths every year globally by 2050. 

Those rather sobering statistics only serve to illustrate why it’s so important that we improve awareness and understanding of AMR through education.

In response to the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week campaign, Doctor Donald Grant, Clinical Lead at online pharmacy The Independent Pharmacy shares his advice for correct antibiotics use. 

What is antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?

“Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi develop the ability to resist antimicrobial treatments. As a result, antimicrobial medications such as antibiotics can become ineffective at treating infections, heightening the risk of severe illness and the spread of disease. 

“Antibiotics are a type of antimicrobial substance developed to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria and fight infections in the body. They are therefore widely used in the treatment of bacterial infections. However, rising AMR rates are causing more and more antibiotics to become ineffective — which is a serious global health concern.” 

Is it possible to overuse antibiotics?

“Overuse of antibiotics is one of the primary causes of AMR, and it’s estimated that as many as 1 in 3 antibiotic treatments may be prescribed unnecessarily. Overuse can impact the effectiveness of antibiotics over time by enabling bacteria to build up resistance. This has led to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” such as MRSA. 

“The misuse of antibiotics can also lead to AMR: for example, using an incorrect treatment (such as using antibiotics for a viral infection, which cannot be treated using antibiotics) can promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant properties in harmless bacteria — which can then be shared with other, more harmful bacteria, rendering the drug ineffective against them.”

You can ensure you are taking antibiotics responsibly by:

  • Only using antibiotics that have been prescribed by a certified healthcare professional
  • Never demanding antibiotics if you’ve been advised that you don’t need them
  • Following the course of treatment exactly as prescribed by your doctor or pharmacist 
  • Never sharing or using leftover antibiotics

It’s important that antibiotic use is monitored, reviewed and approved by a healthcare professional, as they can ensure the treatment you’re receiving is appropriate and reduce the possibility of bacteria becoming resistant to the medication through misuse. 

Is it safe to use expired antibiotics?

“With the rising cost of prescription drugs, some people may be tempted to turn to expired antibiotics lingering in the back of their medicine cabinets rather than paying for a new or repeat prescription. However, you should never use antibiotic drugs past their individual expiration dates.” 

Key reasons for avoiding expired antibiotics:

  • Expired antibiotics are likely to have lost some of their potency, which means they’ll often be ineffective at killing off the bacteria responsible for your infection — as such, you’ll often take longer to recover and your symptoms may even worsen. 
  • Using expired antibiotics can lead to future prescribed courses of the same drug becoming less effective, which can enable stronger, antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop — potentially causing even more harm to you or your child.

“Once the expiration date has passed, there is no guarantee that the antibiotic will still be effective — or indeed, safe. You should never use expired medications, and instead, consult your GP or pharmacist who will be able to issue a repeat prescription or prescribe a new course of treatment.

“If you’re still in possession of antibiotics that have passed their expiration date, take them to your local pharmacist who will dispose of them safely.” 

What does the future hold for antibiotics and AMR?

“As recently as 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the acceleration of AMR would lead to a ‘post-antibiotic era’. That hasn’t come to pass just yet, but AMR across the globe — particularly in countries without standard treatment guidelines — is reaching dangerously high levels, which could have severe consequences.

“That said, science is developing ways to reduce antimicrobial resistance. For instance, researchers from Imperial College London have found a way to weaken antibiotic-resistant bacteria by inhibiting a protein essential to the creation of their resistance capabilities, which could prevent diseases by making bacteria vulnerable to treatment again.

“As Dr. Chris Furniss of ICL says, “Since the discovery of new antibiotics is challenging, it is crucial to develop ways to prolong the lifespan of existing antimicrobials.” This at least gives us a ray of hope in the fight against AMR, but it’s vitally important that we all do our part by using antibiotics responsibly.”

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Last Updated: 23-Nov-2022