Antibiotic resistance: Why we all play our part

Did you know that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today?

It can affect anyone, of any age, and occurs naturally – but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is speeding up the process, meaning a growing number of infections – like pneumonia and tuberculosis – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.

The infection control team at St Hugh’s Hospital are here to explain what antibiotic resistance is and why it’s important that you know about it.

Sam Marsh, our IPC Lead, explained that antibiotics are used to prevent and treat bacterial infections, and resistance happens when bacteria changes in response to the use of them.

“People may not realise that it’s actually bacteria – not human beings or animals – that become antibiotic-resistant. The infections that this kind of bacteria causes therefore become harder to treat than those caused by non-resistant bacteria.

“When infections can no longer be treated by such antibiotics, more expensive medicines must be used. It can also mean being poorly for longer and longer hospital stays, therefore resulting in an extra burden on society.

“It’s generally agreed that the entire world must change the way we use antibiotics to make this situation better, and changing behaviour, too, to reduce the spread of infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria – for example, keeping vaccinations up to date, preparing food hygienically, and frequent hand-washing, and not overusing antibiotics.”

Sam explained how antibiotic resistance is of particular threat to children and older people, and those with weakened immune systems. Antibiotics, she said, have revolutionised many treatments – for cancer, for example, allowing more aggressive therapy to be used and therefore leading to higher survival rates. But a rise in infections that are more difficult to treat with antibiotics affects all of us – not just the vulnerable.

“We can all do our bit to help,” Sam added. “Only use antibiotics when prescribed, and never share or use leftovers. As health professionals, a vital part of what we do is to prevent infections by washing our hands and, if needed, we are available to talk to patients about how to take antibiotics correctly.”

This issue is a high priority for the World Health Organisation (WHO), which recently held the annual World Antimicrobial Awareness Week to increase awareness. Visit www.who.int/campaigns/world-antimicrobial-awareness-week/2021 for more information.

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