The Drugs Don’t Work – the importance of using antibiotics responsibly

26 Jun

by Christian Thomas, PhD student in Medication Safety theme

Antibiotic Guardian _Christian Thomas blog_June 15

This summer saw the Chief Medical Officer of the NHS, Professor Dame Sally Davies present at the annual Cockroft Rutherford alumni lecture at the University of Manchester. The theme of the lecture was ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ and focused on the real threat that the misuse of antibiotic medication poses to patient safety both nationally and worldwide (view the full lecture). Antibiotic medicines work by killing or preventing the growth of bacteria. When antibiotic medicines are used inappropriately bacteria can fight back and become ‘resistant’. This can happen when we take antibiotics that we don’t need (such as for a cold which is caused by a virus), or when we don’t take antibiotics the correct way (such as not finishing the whole course of a prescription). When bacteria become resistant, antibiotics are no longer effective at killing them. This means that the drugs used to treat bacterial infections are less likely to work and that infections could get worse or be passed on to others. Bacterial resistance is a growing problem and over 23,000 people die each year from bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics (1).


1. Prevention CfDCa. About Antimicrobial Resistance 2013 [cited 2015 16th of June].

Before antibiotics were discovered, infections could often be life-threatening. Simple operations and procedures were more risky due to the infection risk, and as late as the 1930s people died from infections. Today, not only do we rely on antibiotics when we have an infection, many patients rely on antibiotics to survive including patients receiving chemotherapy, dialysis, organ transplants and caesareans. Whilst researchers are trying to find new antibiotics, little progress has been made over the last over thirty years. Therefore, it is very important that we do everything that we can to ensure that the antibiotics we have remain as effective as possible. Sadly, not doing so risks taking us back to a time where common infections and minor injuries pose a serious threat to patient safety.

There are many ways in which we can help to slow antibiotic resistance. One simple thing that we can all do is wash our hands thoroughly as this helps to stop the spread of bacteria. Other important steps we can all take are to use antibiotics only when they are deemed necessary by a health professional. We should not expect antibiotics to be prescribed for a common cough or cold, as these are more likely to have been caused by a virus rather than a bacterial infection. If antibiotics are given, we should make sure to finish the whole course, even if we are feeling better. Finally, we should never share antibiotics with friends or family or use leftover prescriptions. Visit the Antibiotic Guardian webpage for more information on antibiotic resistance and to pledge to become an antibiotic guardian.

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