What is Antibiotic Resistance and How Can We Stop it?

Throughout our lives, we have been prescribed antibiotics for various illnesses. But what if you were told those antibiotics might not work in the future?  

This could be the case if antibiotic resistance gets out of hand. 

What is antibiotic resistance? 

Antibiotic resistance occurs when antibiotics are no longer effective because of inappropriate usage and prescribing. This can lead to common illnesses being potentially lethal. 

It is currently the most significant threat to patients’ safety across Ireland and Europe, as some patients are becoming colonised and infected with resistant bacteria. 

Such infections can cause an increased level of death and disease. As this resistance grows, it will become increasingly difficult to treat patients effectively and quickly. 

Former Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Margaret Chan, warns that antibiotic resistance can be one of the greatest threats to global health today. 

In the US, 23,000 people die each year because of antibiotic resistance. Meanwhile, the WHO estimate that there are 480,000 people worldwide who are resistant to tuberculosis (TB). 

How does antibiotic resistance happen? 

When antibiotics are used and prescribed inappropriately, the bacteria in your body are able to change genetically to prevent the antibiotic from working effectively. 

Inappropriate usage of antibiotics includes; not finishing a course of antibiotics, not taking your antibiotics at regular intervals, skipping doses and saving some to use at a later date. 

Antibiotics can also be prescribed inappropriately, including; unnecessary prescriptions, unsuitable use, such as giving a prescription for a viral infection and the wrong selection, dosage and duration of usage. 

In some countries, resistant bacteria can also be passed on from the animals we eat. Antibiotics are fed to livestock, in turn, we can ingest the bacteria from the animal. 

How can we prevent antibiotic resistance? 

If you are feeling under the weather, ask your pharmacist if there is anything you can do to feel better, before asking your doctor for an antibiotic. 

The HSE have a website that advises you on how to get over illnesses such as a sore throat, cough, cold or flu. It can be accessed through the following link: https://www2.hse.ie/under-the-weather/ 

If you are on a course of antibiotics and start to feel better, continue to take them as there may be some bacteria left in your body, that can eventually become resistant to bacteria if you stop. 

Always consult with a doctor before taking an antibiotic. If you take an antibiotic that was left over from a family member, you may not be taking the correct dosage or know how to take the antibiotic correctly. 

Global antibiotic usage went up by 30% between 2000 and 2010, so appropriate prescriptions and usage is key to helping antibiotic resistance. 

Antibiotics are vital for saving lives and treating illnesses such as meningitis.  

Next time you are feeling ill, ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary to ask your doctor for an antibiotic.  

While we can’t completely stop antibiotic resistance, we can slow it down, so the incompetence of antibiotics hopefully won’t happen in the near future.