This global Antibiotic Awareness Week (14–20 November 2016), Australians are being urged to understand that antibiotic resistance is happening here and now, with increased rates of resistance being reported to many commonly-used antibiotics.
A new article from NPS MedicineWise describes how penicillins continue to be the most commonly-prescribed group of antibiotics in Australia, however, recent Australian data has suggested their ability to work against certain bacteria may be at risk.
NPS MedicineWise medical adviser Dr Andrew Boyden says that antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change to protect themselves from an antibiotic. When this happens, antibiotics that previously would have killed the bacteria, or stopped them from multiplying, no longer work.
Antibiotics still prolific in Australia
Australia has high antibiotic prescribing rates, with more than 30 million prescriptions for antibiotics provided to Australians in 2014. Nearly half of the Australian population were prescribed at least one course of antibiotics.
“The more antibiotics are used, the more chances bacteria have to become resistant to them,” says Dr Boyden.
“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can develop after antibiotic use. People can pass resistant bacteria on to others in a number of ways including through coughing or contact with contaminated hands, which is why hand hygiene is so important.”
Infections increasingly harder to treat
Spokesperson for the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, Associate Professor Katie Flanagan says that she and her colleagues are seeing an alarming increase in antibiotic resistant organisms in our hospitals, even among patients that have never been admitted to hospital previously.
“Many patients carrying these organisms have to be managed in individual rooms with private bathrooms, and the medical staff have to wear gloves and gowns for each patient encounter,” she says.
“In some cases the patients are simply colonised but not unwell with the organism (e.g. carrying the organisms on their skin or mucosal surfaces), but if they develop an invasive infection they can be difficult to treat because they don’t respond to first line antibiotic therapy.
“More worryingly, we are now starting to see cases of resistance to our last resort antibiotics such as meropenem, and are therefore facing a future where some infections may be impossible to treat.”
Pledge to handle antibiotics with care
Dr Boyden says the reality is that antibiotics are losing their power, but this Antibiotic Awareness Week—which has the theme ‘handle with care’—everyone can be part of the solution with their everyday behaviour.
“You can make antibiotic resistance worse if you use antibiotics when you don’t need them, use old packs of antibiotics for a new infection, share antibiotics among friends or family, or fail to take antibiotics as your doctor prescribes, including the right amount and at the right time,” he says.
This Antibiotic Awareness Week, individuals can pledge to do five things to reduce antibiotic resistance:
- I will not ask for antibiotics for colds and the flu as they have no effect on viruses
- I understand that antibiotics will not help me recover faster from a viral infection
- I will only take antibiotics in the way they have been prescribed
- I understand that it is possible to pass on antibiotic resistant bacteria to others
- I will make a greater effort to prevent the spread of germs by practising good hygiene
Prescribing is on the improve
Evidence suggests that inappropriate antibiotic prescribing by health professionals may be decreasing. For example, according to BEACH data, systemic antibiotics prescribed for acute upper respiratory tract infections have dropped from 32.8% of presentations in 2011-2012 to 29.0% in 2013-2014.
This evidence is examined in a new article for health professionals by NPS MedicineWise.
However, prescribing data indicate that antibiotics are still being frequently prescribed in situations that are not consistent with evidence-based guidelines, and that antibiotic type is sometimes not optimal.
Ongoing campaign for change
NPS MedicineWise has an ongoing campaign to raise awareness about the serious public health issue of antibiotic resistance, and create behaviour changes that drive down inappropriate prescribing in Australia by health professionals and the misuse of antibiotics by consumers.
For Antibiotic Awareness Week 2016, NPS MedicineWise is again working with key national and international organisations in response to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We receive funding by the Australian Government Department of Health.
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