Antibiotics – what do you know about them?

It’s that time of year when everyone comes down with colds, flus and sore throats. It’s certainly doing the rounds at the moment… you’ll have either caught something yourself or know of someone who has.

When you’re feeling rotten, it’s easy to reach out to your GP surgery with the thought of antibiotics in mind. But 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.

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 bacterianot human beings or animals – that become antibiotic-resistant,” explains Sam Marsh, the IPC Lead at St Hugh’s Hospital. “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.

Antibiotics, Sam 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). Visit for more information.

And as winter is upon us once more, it is likely that norovirus will raise its nasty head. Also known as noro, or the winter vomiting bug, this virus causes acute gastroenteritis in humans. Symptoms include diarrhoea, sickness, stomach pains,  and nausea.

It spreads by inhaling contaminated air, through virus particles on food and by touching contaminated surfaces, and the worst thing is it can survive outside the human body for several days!

Sam said the best way to protect ourselves is to practice good hygiene all-round. This means:

Washing fruit and vegetables and making sure food is cooked properly.
Washing hands regularly with soap and water. Alcohol-based hand gels will not kill norovirus!
Stay off work or school until you’ve stopped vomiting/having diarrhoea for at least two days.
Continually disinfect surfaces in the home… the virus can last on surfaces for up to 14 days!