Like global warming, antibiotic resistance is a silent menace with serious but difficult to predict consequences. Both problems are too large for any one person to solve, but it’s important for every individual to help in a small way.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria are exposed to antibiotics supposed to kill them but a few survive. These survivors can multiply and the antibiotic drug then no longer works. Resistant bacteria are sometimes called “superbugs” and can lead to untreatable infections.
It’s known that communities or countries with a lot of antibiotic use have a lot of antibiotic resistance, and, unfortunately, New Zealand uses more antibiotics than many other Western countries.
In response to this, two local doctors have teamed up to fight the rise of superbugs.
Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. Richard Everts and General Practitioner Dr. Dave Dixon have developed a poster for waiting rooms and a handy reminder card for GPs to help identify which of the common winter illnesses need antibiotics and which don’t. The card is intended to be used in discussions with patients about the signs of serious infections that require antibiotic treatment, and less severe ones that the body’s own immune system can deal with.
“GPs always want to help their sick patients feel better, and sometimes it’s tempting to use an antibiotic just to cover all possibilities” says Dixon “but if this puts the patient at risk of developing resistant bacteria we have to include this in our decision making. If we can separate the minor infections from the serious ones it’s likely that most patients will feel reassured by that, and will actually be quite happy not to have to take antibiotics.”
Everts agrees: “It’s very hard to tell a mother that her child crying with earache doesn’t need antibiotics, but research that shows 8 out of 10 children with ear infections get better by themselves. So the old cliché of ‘take some pain relief and call me in the morning’ is actually a good way to manage most ear infections!”
The campaign is currently being rolled out in general practices across the region, with interest also being shown by some North Island centres.
Some key points about winter illnesses:
- Most sore throats, runny nose and coughs are caused by viruses and don’t need antibiotic treatment
- Paracetamol is the first treatment option for mild symptoms
- See your GP if you have high fever, feel very unwell, or are concerned about yourself or your child
- Reserve antibiotics for serious bacterial infections