The rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria

Dr Jacqueline Sneddon

Dr Jacqueline Sneddon MRPharmS FFRPS
Project Lead for Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group

Consider this scenario. Your younger child has been awake all night, crying with earache. They’re upset and tired, and so are you. Your older child had a flu bug last week, and you have already taken three days off work to look after them. You’ll take the little one to the doctor in the morning and get antibiotics to clear it up. You’ll probably have to pester the GP for them, but you’ll do it so your child feels better quickly and you can go back to work sooner.

In addition to being really worried about our little ones, as parents, we also have to cope with the guilt of being away from work for too long, and for many parents this is unpaid leave.
The sight of a poorly child is an upsetting one. The hope that antibiotics will reduce the time our children suffer with pain, sometimes means that exhausted and worried parents demand a prescription for antibiotics, even though the GP didn’t really think they were necessary.

But…antibiotics do not work for most coughs, sore throats and earaches. These are usually self-limiting infections, so the body can fight them itself. Simple measures such as taking some rest, drinking plenty of fluids and regular paracetamol or ibuprofen will help you or your child feel better. Your local community pharmacist will be able to advise you on symptom relief and when you should see a doctor.

Bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics is one of the biggest threats facing us today. This is due to bacteria evolving to become resistant, largely due to our overuse of antibiotics. Bacteria are adapting and our drugs are becoming ineffective. The use of antibiotics both in humans and animals is responsible, so doctors, vets and farmers are all becoming more careful about when and how they use them.

When antibiotics fail to work, treatable infections like pneumonia or urinary tract infections and simple injuries will kill once again. This would include conditions that women can develop after childbirth such as C-section wound infections or mastitis during breastfeeding.  Drug resistant bacteria could make routine operations like caesareans, appendix removal and hip replacements life threatening.

However used in the right way, antibiotics can save lives. In some cases, antibiotics will be required so if you or your child are prescribed an antibiotic, always take them as directed – the right amount, at the right time, for the right duration. Never save them for future use or share them with others and return any unused antibiotics to your local community pharmacy for disposal.

Healthcare providers and healthcare staff need to change their practices to preserve our antibiotics but all of us also have an important role to play. When your child is crying with earache, your partner is complaining of a sore throat or you’re lying in bed with flu, remember your actions could have a huge potential cost for the future.
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