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Blog: Antibiotic Resistance – Causes, consequences and how you can help

World Antibiotic Awareness Week, 13-19 November 2017

By 2025, it is expected that antibiotic resistance will be the biggest threat to health, food security, and development. The continued reduction in the effectiveness of our medicines can and will lead to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality.

It’s vital that we take this problem seriously now, and follow the recommended steps to safeguard our futures.

Key facts

  • Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone, of any age, in any country.
  • Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.
  • A growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.

Causes of resistance
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of antibiotics. These are medicines used to prevent and treat bacterial infections.

40% of the world’s antibiotics are used in the farming industry, where it is added to animal feed. The more antibiotics used, the more chance of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in the animal, or in the soil where they urinate.

These resistance genes can then be easily passed on to other bacteria and spread, most worryingly when we eat the meat or produce from the ‘contaminated’ farm. Therefore, organic meat is the only ‘safe’ meat to eat in this respect, as well as avoiding polluting the environment around the farms.

The consequences
The use of antibiotics in farms is a contributing factor to the development of antibiotic resistance, including the creation of multidrug-resistant bacteria, informally called “super bugs” such as MRSA. The consequence is that relatively harmless bacteria (such as staphylococcus or enterococcus) can develop resistance to multiple antibiotics and cause life-threatening infections.

When infections can no longer be treated by first-line antibiotics, more expensive medicines must be used. A longer duration of illness and treatment, often in hospitals, increases health care costs as well as the economic burden on families and societies.

What you can do
Antibiotic resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, as well as poor infection prevention and control. In the first place, we urgently need to change the way we prescribe and use antibiotics. Advice to take on a personal level includes:

  • Don’t rush to the GP for every snuffle
  • Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional
  • Never demand antibiotics if your doctor says you do not need them
  • Always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics, including finishing all courses!
  • Never share or use leftover antibiotics
  • Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practising safer intercourse and keeping vaccinations up to date
  • Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials)
  • Choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals

Protecting our future
Antibiotic resistance is putting the achievements of modern medicine at risk. Organ transplantations, chemotherapy and surgeries such as caesarean sections become much more dangerous without effective antibiotics for the prevention and treatment of infections.

Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill. It is only by taking action at all levels of society that we can reduce the impact and limit the spread of resistance.

Sources:
http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-antibiotic-awareness-week/en/
https://amr-review.org/sites/default/files/160525_Final%20paper_with%20cover.pdf
http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/opinion-antibiotic-resistance-is-one-of-the-biggestthreats-to-human-health-3490453-Jul2017/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antibiotic_misuseSources

Lucy Sherry, Solicitor-Advocate; Head of Medical Negligence specialises in medical negligence litigation, previously representing the NHS Litigation Authority and one of the GP Unions. Lucy now works with injured individuals and bereaved families to achieve compensation for adverse outcomes. Lucy has a passion for learning and sharing her knowledge, regularly delivering medico-legal training to lawyers, attending many hours of medical lectures each year to keep abreast of changes in treatments, and gaining an insight into new health and medical findings to share with Thomson & Bancks’ clients and visitors to this blog.

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