World Antibiotics Awareness Week is 18-22 November. This is supported in the UK by the ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ Campaign.
The World Antibiotic Awareness Week (WAAW) is a global action plan launched in 2015 by the World Health Organization (WHO) to tackle the growing problem of resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines. One of the key objectives of the plan is to improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance through effective communication, education and training.
Similarly, the UK Government launched its Review on Antimicrobial Resistance in July 2014. David Cameron, then Prime Minister, said:
“If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine”
It is important to stress at this point that this review related to the broader use of antibiotics rather than just those prescribed to humans. After all, most of us take antibiotics without even realising it!
We are delighted that since we published this article in 2008, when statistics showed that almost half the antibiotics used in the UK were given to farm animals, there has been a great deal of improvement in farming practices with many farms moving to free-range styles of farming and a commitment to reducing antibiotic usage. Unfortunately, the cheapest meat and dairy products are still likely to have been sourced from businesses where intensive farming practices are still employed.
It is also important to remind ourselves of the meaning of the word antibiotics. As our earlier article Are You For or Against Life explains, Biotic is derived from the Greek word meaning life. Antibiotics therefore literally means ‘anti-life’. Their purpose is to destroy all bacteria. So, we have two major issues associated with the overuse of antibiotics:
Overuse which is creating resistance
Overuse which is destroying good bacteria and compromising our immune systems
In February 2018, Public Health England (PHE) announced ambitious targets to cut GP antibiotic prescribing dramatically over the next two years. Research at that point indicated that one in five GP antibiotic prescriptions is inappropriate.
Whilst clearly this is unacceptable, perhaps a large proportion of the blame should be attributed to the number of patients visiting their GPs who are absolutely insistent that they would to be prescribed antibiotics. Even more worrying is that the demand is often for their children. Many GPs will say that they try to reduce their antibiotic prescribing but frequently find it difficult to do so when a patient will not accept their advice and is insistent they get their ‘magic bullet!’
Hence the ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign which was first launched by PHE in October 2017 across England. The campaign was re-launched for the second year on 5th November 2019.
Many GPs across the country are supporting the ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign.
NHS Southend and NHS Castle Point and Rochford Clinical Commissioning Group have stressed that antibiotics are needed for serious bacterial infections but don’t work for everyday viral infections such as cold and flu. Pharmacists can provide advice on treating these illnesses. If you take antibiotics when you don’t need them, more dangerous bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. This means they are less likely to work when you really need them for more serious infections.
Tricia D’Orsi, Chief Nurse for NHS Southend and NHS Castle Point and Rochford CCG said:
“Taking antibiotics when they are not needed puts you at risk of a more severe or longer infection, and you should always take your doctor’s advice on antibiotics. Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections, such as meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis, but they are frequently being used to treat illnesses, such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them will mean your body is more resistant to them so they may not work when you really need them.”
It is estimated that at least 5,000 deaths are caused every year in England because antibiotics no longer work for some people with infections. If antibiotics are not effective minor infections could become more serious. Reducing inappropriate use of antibiotics can help people stay clear of bugs this winter.
Remember that antibiotics are not always needed so always take your doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s advice and help keep this precious resource in the fight against infections working.
For further information about antibiotics, their uses and the risk of resistance, search ‘NHS Antibiotics’ online, or visit the NHS website.
NHS Southend and NHS Castle Point and Rochford Clinical Commissioning Group press release