Are we really over-using antibiotics; what is all the fuss about?

News Page 13th November 2015

The University of Northampton’s Dr Gemma Marsden, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biosciences, and Dr Noel Harris, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology give their views on antibiotic resistance…

“Increasing antibiotic resistance is a global healthcare problem and requires global stewardship of antibiotics currently used both in the healthcare setting and beyond.   The last 70 years have been considered by some as the age of antibiotics and these drugs have become the crutch of modern medicine. Many common diseases are now easily treatable with these very powerful drugs, as they stop the progression of bacterial infections.  Antibiotics have enabled the advancement of surgical techniques such as hip replacements, transplants and cancer therapies; where the risk of infection is increased.

Too often patients ask and are given antibiotics for viral infections such as coughs, colds and sore throats.  The majority of these conditions are “fought off” by our own immune systems without the need for drugs; taking antibiotics in these instances will make the patient feel worse and potentially wipe out the “friendly” bacteria in their body.

Dr Gemma Marsden Dr Noel HarrisA number of actions will help preserve antibiotics.  Firstly, access to diagnostic tools that determine whether an infection is bacterial or viral and further than this, when a bacterial infection is diagnosed provide information about which antibiotics will work and which won’t.  Secondly, a realisation that the medical profession are best placed to decide the medical need of each individual patient.

Bacteria that are resistant to a plethora of antibiotics are becoming more widespread and the current antibiotic drugs that we rely on are becoming ineffective.  This, in addition to the lack of antibiotic discovery over the last 30 years, means that we are in danger of losing these powerful medicines and we need incentives to encourage the development of new antibiotics by the pharmaceutical industry.

Whilst the guardians of antibiotics in the developed world are healthcare professionals, this is not the case in the developing world where antibiotics can be readily purchased over the counter.  As well as in the healthcare setting, we must also consider the over use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine, and as growth promoters in US livestock production as adding to the growing burden of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

If we are to avoid the “antibiotic apocalypse” (when the common diseases become untreatable), then health professionals need to use antibiotics in appropriate (and serious) cases of infection.

As patients, we all can protect current antibiotics by not asking for them when we have viral infections (colds, cough and sore throats), by completing the prescribed course of antibiotics and by taking the advice of the nurses, pharmacists, dentists  and Doctors who are at the coalface.  In this way we can all become Antibiotic Guardians and be involved in protecting what remaining antibiotics we have.”


Pictured left to right: Dr Gemma Marsden, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biosciences

(Antibiotic Action Champion, Antibiotic Guardian and CO-ADD champion)

Dr Noel Harris, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology.

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