Members of the public are being urged not to take antibiotics when they are not needed in a TV ad highlighting the threat of antibiotic resistance.
The ad is part of the ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign launched this week by Public Health England (PHE), which warns that taking antibiotics when they are not needed puts you and your family at risk of a more severe or longer infection.
The campaign reminds the public to take antibiotics as advised by their doctor, not to hoard any medication for a later date or share with others, and to trust their doctor when they are told antibiotics are not needed.
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 encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant and that means that antibiotics may not work when you really need them.
According to PHE, it is estimated that at least 5,000 deaths are caused every year in England because antibiotics no longer work for some infections.
As part of the campaign doctors are warning that deaths linked to antibiotic resistance will rise. In just over 30 years, when the current generation of children are grown up, they believe antibiotic resistance will kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined.
The campaign urges the public to always trust their doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s advice as to when they need antibiotics and if they are prescribed, take antibiotics as directed and never save them for later use or share with others.
Commenting on the initiative’s launch, Paul Cosford, medical director at PHE, said: “Antibiotic resistance is not a distant threat, but is in fact one of the most dangerous global crises facing the modern world today.
“Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them puts you and your family at risk of developing infections which in turn cannot be easily treated with antibiotics. Without urgent action from all of us, common infections, minor injuries and routine operations will become much riskier.
“PHE’s ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign helps to explain the risks of antibiotic resistance to the public. It is important for people to understand that if they are feeling under the weather and see their GP or a nurse, antibiotics may not be prescribed if they are not effective for their condition, but they should expect to have a full discussion about how to manage their symptoms.”
Dr Chris Van Tulleken, TV and of infectious diseases doctor at University College London Hospitals, said through her work, she’s seen first-hand what happens if antibiotics don’t work.
“It’s scary. Antibiotics are not just vital for treating serious bacterial infections, they’re needed to help with other treatments like chemotherapy,” she said.
“Antibiotic resistance is a problem that will affect every one of us, so we all have a role to play. As GPs we are often asked to prescribe antibiotics by patients who think that they will cure all their ills. The reality is that antibiotics are not always needed so you shouldn’t expect to be prescribed them by your doctor or nurse.
“Always take their advice and remember that your pharmacist can recommend medicines to help with your symptoms or pain.”
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, added: “Without effective antibiotics, minor infections could become deadly and many medical advances could be at risk; surgery, chemotherapy and caesareans could become simply too dangerous.
“But reducing inappropriate use of antibiotics can help us stay ahead of superbugs. The public has a critical role to play and can help by taking collective action. I welcome the launch of the ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign, and remember that antibiotics are not always needed so always take your doctor’s advice.”
If you or a family member are feeling unwell, have the flu, sore throat or ear ache, or you haven’t been prescribed antibiotics, PHE recommends these self-care tips to help you and other family members feel better:
:: Ask your pharmacist to recommend medicines to help with symptoms or pain
:: Get plenty of rest
:: Drink enough fluids to avoid feeling thirsty
:: Use paracetamol if you or your child are uncomfortable as a result of fever – which is a sign of the body fighting infection, and normally gets better by itself in most cases
:: Use tissues for your nose and wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading your infection to family and friends
:: If you or your child are getting worse or are sicker than you would expect, even if your/their temperature falls, trust your instincts and seek medical advice urgently from NHS 111 or your GP.
:: For further information on antibiotics, their uses and the risk of resistance, search ‘NHS antibiotics’ online.