Antibiotics are effective drugs, as long as they are used to treat the right illnesses. They do not work on viral illnesses, such as sore throats and colds, but often patients think they do. GPs are getting more and more pressure from patients to prescribe them for minor symptoms.
Friendly (useful) germs live in your body as well as unfriendly (harmful) germs. Antibiotics can kill off these friendly germs as well as the unfriendly ones. This means you may pick up other infections more easily. Some harmful germs can ‘outsmart’ antibiotics and have become resistant to them.
Unfortunately, this means there are infections developing that are harder to treat with antibiotics.
We could soon be close to the point where antibiotics may no longer be able to prevent or treat everyday infections or diseases.
There is clear evidence that over use of antibiotics can increase the chance of infection from these ‘resistant germs’. These germs are often referred to in the press as ‘super-bugs’.
The most common are Clostridium Difficile and MRSA. These super-bugs do not just infect you; they can spread to other people around you. Some antibiotics can cause side effects such as rashes, thrush, stomach pains, diarrhoea or being sick if you drink alcohol.
To reduce this risk, doctors must make sure they prescribe antibiotics with care. Careful use of antibiotics means they will be more likely to work for you when you really need them.
Key facts about antibiotics
- Antibiotics are medicines used to treat infections caused by bacteria.
- Antibiotics work by killing bacteria and/or preventing their growth.
- Different types of antibiotics treat different kinds of infection.
- Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for respiratory infections, but most of these are caused by viruses not bacteria.
- Most patients are prescribed antibiotics without the doctor knowing the cause of the infection.
- Colds and most coughs are caused by viruses not bacteria, so antibiotics will not help.
- If you take antibiotics when you don’t need them, they may lose their ability to kill bacteria.
- Antibiotic resistance is growing. If the bacteria keep “overpowering” the medicines we have, we may run out of ways to kill these bacteria.
- Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause serious infections and can be spread to others in your family.