The overuse and misuse of antibiotics is one of the most significant threats to long-term public health worldwide, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has warned.
Antibiotics are used to treat some bacterial infections. Their discovery and development in the 1940s and 1950s meant that many serious infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis (TB) were no longer seen as potential killers. These drugs are also used to treat common infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs).
However, gross overuse has led to the problem of antibiotic resistance, whereby bacteria change and build up a resistance to drugs that have been used over a long period of time and in great numbers.
According to the IPU, heath services are seeing an increase in levels of antibiotic resistant infections, and this is thought to be largely due to the overuse and misuse of these drugs.
This increased resistance, coupled with a lack of new antibiotics coming on stream, ‘means there is a risk that we could return to the pre-antibiotic era', the union warned.
This would mean that even routine infections would be difficult to treat, and it would be particularly dangerous for more complicated infections, especially in patients with chronic diseases.
"It is essential that everyone takes responsibility for ensuring that antibiotics are only used when absolutely necessary. The key message is that antibiotics should only ever be taken when a patient actually requires them to treat a specific bacterial infection. For anyone suffering from coughs, colds, sore throat, sinusitis, flu, vomiting and diarrhoea, antibiotics will not work and should not be taken," commented IPU president, Daragh Connolly.
He expressed concern that at a time when antibiotic use should be reducing, it is actually increasing in Ireland. According to figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, Irish people are taking 7% more antibiotics today than they were 15 years ago.
"We are taking too many antibiotics and this is causing the very concerning rise in antibiotic resistance. If this problem isn't tackled, the antibiotics used to treat infections today will become ineffective or may stop working altogether in the future," Mr Connolly said.
He reminded people that the flu is not a bacterial infection, and so antibiotics cannot treat it.
"The flu is a viral infection that results in an extremely contagious respiratory illness and can lead to serious illness, even death, particularly for elderly patients and those suffering from chronic illnesses or a weakened immune system. The flu vaccination is the best way to reduce your chances of getting seasonal flu and spreading it to others," he said.
The IPU offers the following advice when it comes to antibiotics:
-Do not take antibiotics for colds, flu, a sore throat, a cough, vomiting and diarrhoea
-If you do need to take an antibiotic, take it exactly as prescribed and finish the full course, even if you are feeling better
-Do not save antibiotics for later use or share them with others
-Do not expect or ask to be prescribed antibiotics for viral conditions.
The IPU made its comments to coincide with European Antibiotics Awareness Day 2018 (November 18).