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Are you antibiotic aware?​

Every year, European Antibiotic Awareness Day is held on 18 November. It's a Europe-wide public health campaign which encourages responsible use of antibiotics, and is something NHS Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group supports.

Antibiotics are important medicines. They help fight infections that are caused by bacteria. Bacteria can adapt and find ways to survive the effects of an antibiotic. They become ‘antibiotic resistant’ so that the antibiotic no longer works.

The more often we use an antibiotic, the more likely it is that bacteria will become resistant to it. Some bacteria that cause infections in hospitals, such as MRSA, are resistant to several antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance is a major concern. Antibiotic resistance can develop by:

  • not completing a course of antibiotics as prescribed
  • skipping doses of antibiotics
  • not taking antibiotics at regular intervals
  • saving some for later
  • unnecessary prescription of antibiotics
  • wrong selection of antibiotics
  • inappropriate length of antibiotic course
  • wrong dose of antibiotics

Antibiotics do not help fight infections that are caused by viruses.  All colds and most coughs and sore throats are caused by viruses. Viral infections are much more common than bacterial infections.

The best way to treat most colds, coughs or sore throats is to drink plenty of fluids and to rest. Colds can last about two weeks and may end with a cough and bringing up phlegm. There are many over the counter remedies to ease the symptoms – for example paracetamol for a temperature. Ask your pharmacist for advice.

If the cold lasts more than three weeks, or you become breathless or have chest pains, or already have a chest complaint, see your doctor.

In recent years fewer new antibiotics have been discovered. As antibiotic resistance grows, it will become more difficult to treat infection, and this affects patient care.

So what can you do to help reduce antibiotic resistance?

  • Only using antibiotics when it’s appropriate to do so.
  • Follow your doctor’s advice on when and how to take any antibiotics prescribed.
  • Take the complete course to make sure you get rid of the bacteria completely.

Dr Adrian McLachlan, NHS Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group said:

“Keeping antibiotics effective is everybody’s responsibility, and that means doctors must only prescribe them when they are the right treatment and absolutely necessary.  If you visit your GP with a cold, you may well be advised to visit your local pharmacist for over the counter remedies,  as antibiotics won’t make you better”.

It's important that we use antibiotics the right way, to slow down the development of resistance. It’s not possible to stop it completely, but slowing it down helps make sure these life-saving medicines remain effective for us and future generations.

Public Health England have also established the Antibiotic Guardian campaign to help protect antibiotics and improve knowledge about antibiotic resistance, and you are invited to become an Antibiotic Guardian. As an Antibiotic Guardian, encourage others to join you in protecting antibiotics against the growing threat of antibiotic resistance at  www.antibioticguardian.com

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Now you know lots about antibiotics, why don’t you try taking this Department of Health quiz?

Download the European Antibiotic Awareness Day poster here.​