The scary truth about antibiotic resistance.

NPS MedicineWise
Thanks to our brand partner, NPS MedicineWise

Advice no one can afford to ignore.

When your nose is running, your throat is burning and your joints are aching, you’d do just about anything to make it stop.

And if over-the-counter cold and flu meds aren’t doing the trick, most people turn to what they think will be the next best thing.

Sometimes that is going to the doctor to ask for antibiotics.

But that decision isn’t just unnecessary — it’s downright dangerous.

The World Health Organisation has warned that right now, we are facing one of the biggest threats to global health: antibiotic resistance.

So how is this incredible innovation of modern medicine turning into our downfall?

In the 80 years since they were developed, antibiotics — drugs that kill bacteria, thereby helping to fight infection — have become an essential component of healthcare.

The more we overuse and misuse antibiotics, the more bacteria develop a resistance to them.

But the more we overuse and misuse antibiotics, the more bacteria develop a resistance to them. And this is not good news.

Dr Jeannie Yoo, Clinical Adviser for NPS MedicineWise, explains: “Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change to protect themselves from an antibiotic. They are then no longer sensitive to that antibiotic,” she says.

“When this happens, antibiotics that previously would have killed the bacteria, or stopped them from multiplying, no longer work.”

You’ve probably heard the term “superbugs” – meaning bacteria that are resistant to several different antibiotics.

In these cases, doctors are left with limited or, in the worst case scenarios, no available treatment options.

The harmful effects of antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance have already taken hold and are increasing at a pace that is outstripping the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to develop new drugs.

Statistics show that antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim at least 50,000 lives each year across Europe and the US. But reliable estimates of the real cost of this problem are limited.

Predictions are it’s only set to get worse.

A UK review on antimicrobial resistance in late 2014 estimated that drug-resistant infections could kill an extra 10 million people across the world every year by 2050 if steps are not taken to address the issue. By this date, they could also cost the world around $100 trillion in lost output: more than the size of the current world economy.


While Australia has not yet experienced the same level of deaths and healthcare costs, Dr Yoo says further efforts are required here and now to manage this emerging threat.

Predictions are it’s only set to get worse.

“The high rate of antibiotic use in Australia is an immediate concern highlighted in the National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy just released by the Health Minister,” Dr Yoo says.

In 2013, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) supplied 29.2 million prescriptions for antibiotics to over 10 million unique patients, which is 45 per cent of the Australian population. But actual use is higher, as these figures do not recognise hospital use or private prescriptions.

A world, in which antibiotics no longer work, is one where common and treatable infections become life threatening, basic surgery becomes a risk and healthcare costs skyrocket.

It’s not just a world we’re handing down to our kids and grandkids, but one that at this rate, we’re facing imminently.

So what can we do? Well, a lot actually.

Dr Yoo says that, “To help make headway, Australians need to understand that what they do as individuals can have a very real and immediate impact on antibiotic resistance.”

This means educating yourself about when you do and don’t need antibiotics. There are common misconceptions that antibiotics are some kind of cure-all, but they actually won’t help you get over viral illnesses like colds and flu.

As we head into the depths of the winter season, this is particularly important to know. Attempting to use antibiotics for a common cold will do nothing to help the symptoms and in fact, will make the drugs less effective for when you do really need them.

So, ask you doctor to prescribe antibiotics only in situations where they are really going to make a difference. And if you do need to take antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed.

If we all treat antibiotics properly, we can ensure they’re around long into the future.

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