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Antibiotics don’t work for all infections

Antibiotics only work on bacteria, not other infections like viruses that cause colds and flu. Taking an antibiotic when it’s not needed will not make a significant difference to how you feel or how fast you recover.

When you start to feel better it’s usually because your immune system is doing the work to treat your infection


Find out more about how antibiotics work


     


Date published:31 May 2017



Bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, not your body

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change or mutate to protect themselves from an antibiotic.

The more often antibiotics are used or taken incorrectly, the more chance bacteria have to change and become resistant to them. This can make bacterial infections much harder to treat.

Mutated bacteria can also pass their genes to other bacteria, forming a new antibiotic resistant ‘strain’ of the bacteria. 

Antibiotic resistance is already impacting our health

Antibiotic-resistant infections are not just seen in hospitals, agriculture and countries overseas, and they are not a problem to deal with in the future.

Antibiotic resistance is already affecting individuals in the Australian community.

Infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria is associated with longer stays in hospital and a higher death rate. In Australia, the prevalence of multi-resistant bacteria (also known as ‘superbugs’) is increasing, and more patients are getting staph infections that are resistant to multiple antibiotics.

If you have an infection that is caused by bacteria which is resistant to antibiotics you are more likely to die from that infection.

Examples of bacteria in the community that have already developed resistance to a number of antibiotics include strains of Escherichia coli (E coli) that cause many urinary tract infections. ‘Golden staph’, a common cause of skin infections, is another example.

Failure of the last-resort antibiotic treatment for the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoea has occurred in Australia.

Green snot doesn’t mean you need antibiotics

Coloured mucous or phlegm isn’t always a sign of a bacterial infection, and that also goes for other symptoms including cough, sore throat, earaches and fever. While some people with these symptoms will need antibiotics, most people won’t and will get better without antibiotics.

Green or yellow coloured snot can in fact be a sign that your immune system is fighting your infection, and not that your illness is getting worse.

Sharing antibiotics and using leftovers can increase antibiotic resistance

When bacteria encounter an antibiotic, they adapt to protect themselves.

There are actions that you can take to reduce the chance of resistance developing.

  • Take the prescribed dose and complete the whole course of treatment prescribed by your doctor. Even if you are feeling better, taking the whole course reduces the chance that some bacteria will survive and become resistant.
  • Don’t share antibiotics with another person. This is important because the type of antibiotic may not be targeted to the bacteria causing their particular infection.
  • Don’t keep leftovers. The dose and amount leftover may not be enough to destroy a new infection – creating more opportunity for resistant bacteria to develop and multiply.

Antibiotic resistance can have personal consequences for you, your family and the community

If you or a member of your family develop an antibiotic-resistant infection:

  • you will have the infection for longer
  • you may be more likely to have complications from the infection
  • you could remain infectious for longer and pass your infection to other people.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can persist in your body for as long as 12 months and may be passed on to family members or others in the community.

The drug pipeline for antibiotics is drying up

In the last 50 years only one antibiotic that works in a new way has been discovered and developed for use in humans.

In 2015, media reported the discovery of a new class of antibiotics, called teixobactin, as a “breakthrough” and a “game-changer”. However the new antibiotic has not yet even been tested in people. So far it has only been shown to be toxic to bacteria in mice. It will likely be years before it becomes a viable option in humans.

This new antibiotic only works on certain types of bacteria (gram-positive)—so it would help for some of the currently hard-to-treat infections, but not all.

For example, it is not effective against E coli (as that is gram-negative) which can be resistant to antibiotics.

The time it is taking for bacteria to become resistant to new antibiotics is getting shorter, so even if new antibiotics are discovered, this will likely become an issue again if we don’t change the way we use antibiotics

Patients and doctors contribute to the problem

Reducing antibiotic resistance is everyone’s responsibility.

Research by NPS MedicineWise in 2014 showed that patient expectations lead many general practitioners to prescribe antibiotics when they may not be effective—contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

  • More than half of GPs (57%) reported that they would prescribe antibiotics for an upper respiratory tract infection to meet patient expectations.
  • One fifth ( 20%) of surveyed consumers said they would expect the doctor to prescribe antibiotics for a cold or flu.
  • 17% of surveyed consumers would ask a doctor to prescribe antibiotics.

Some doctors don’t believe their individual prescribing makes a difference, and some patients believe antibiotic resistance is an issue for future generations and therefore they won’t bear the consequences.

The reality is that antibiotic resistance is already impacting individuals and is a growing problem in our community. We all need to take personal action to preserve antibiotics.

What you do as an individual has a real impact on antibiotic resistance

This is a problem we can have control over. Actions we take as individuals can make a difference, because the more antibiotics are used, the more chances bacteria have to become resistant to them. This will make bacterial infections much harder to treat.

There are five things you can pledge to do 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 


Take the Antibiotic Resistance Pledge

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#SaveTheScript films

#SaveTheScript was an industry-first short film competition, dedicated to raising awareness about antibiotic resistance. Together, Tropfest and NPS MedicineWise invited entrants to use their passion for creative storytelling to make a difference to our future by creating a 45 second short film to help raise awareness that antibiotics are losing their power.

The competition received recognition from global antibiotic resistance organisations. Jim O’Neill, Chairman of the independent Review on Antimicrobial Resistance commissioned by the UK Government (and former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management) wrote in September 2015, “We need campaigns like the one introduced by the Australian organisation NPS MedicineWise, which held a competition for videos promoting public awareness of antibiotic use. The result was a series of short, witty films explaining simply and humorously how antibiotics can be misused”. 

The finalist films can be shared to raise awareness on antibiotic resistance. They can be viewed and embedded from our YouTube channel www.youtube.com/npsmedicinewise.




4 min read