Think you need antibiotics for a cough or cold? For the flu? Sinus aches? Cloudy pee? Toothaches? Think Twice. Seek Advice.
Antibiotics don’t work against your common cold and flu viruses, and are unnecessary for some common bacterial infections.
Overuse or misuse of antibiotics can cause bacteria to develop resistance to these drugs—making antibiotics less effective when you need them the most.
Ask your health professional whether antibiotics are the right treatment for you.
Why a campaign for antibiotics?
Unnecessary antibiotic use and misuse directly contribute to the rise in resistant bacteria. Antibiotic awareness week promotes cautious and correct use of antibiotics to help prevent and control the spread of bacteria that develop resistance to the medications.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), overuse and misuse of antibiotics is more common in Canada than in other OECD countries. Respiratory infections account for the greatest amount of overuse, in Canada and abroad. (Canadian Institute for Health Information. Infographic: Do you need that antibiotic? 2017)
• Canadian clinicians prescribe 33% more antibiotics than clinicians in countries like the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany.
• For OECD countries overall, 3 out of 5 antibiotic prescriptions were for diagnoses considered inappropriate such as common colds and related symptoms (e.g., sore throat, cough).
Why use antibiotics wisely?
Antibiotics are lifesaving medications that we rely on to fight and prevent infections. The long lifespans we enjoy, we owe in large part to antibiotics. But despite their potency, like most medications, antibiotics have limitations.
Antibiotics only work to treat conditions caused by bacteria, not those caused by viruses. Antibiotics may also kill some protective bacteria, and may cause some harmful side-effects.
These harms alone are reason enough to avoid unnecessary antibiotic use; some bacterial infections resolve without treatment. But there is also the risk of antibiotic resistance.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Germs like bacteria change when exposed to antibiotics in the body. They develop characteristics that allow them to fend off or disable antibiotics. Bacteria that develop this ‘resistance’ are not killed and continue to multiply.
Resistance in bacteria can pass to other bacteria in your body. They can also be deposited in the environment (water, soil), or spread to others in your family, community, or hospitals. When disease-causing bacteria are ‘resistant’ they can become difficult or impossible to treat.
What harms are expected?
In Canada and around the world there are increasing reports of treatment failures, where resistant bacterial infections are no longer responding to antibiotics. This is already seen for some common infections, like pneumonia and gonorrhea.
This means that many procedures that we rely on will be risky. Routine operations like hip replacement, cesarean section, or appendix removal will become riskier. Without effective antibiotics, patients receiving chemotherapy and others with weakened immune systems will be poorly protected.
Although Canadian data are limited, experts estimate that in some Canadian provinces tens of thousands of illnesses per year result from resistant bacteria.
By 2050, if we continue using antibiotics as we are now, approximately 10 million people worldwide will die from resistant organisms each year, which is more than the number of deaths caused by cancer.
What can be done?
Responsible use of antibiotics can help slow the tide of increasing antibiotic-resistance. Action is needed at all levels—individuals, governments, major organizations—and by all nations.
You can safeguard antibiotics and your health by using antibiotics cautiously, only when necessary, and only as prescribed. Only take antibiotics prescribed to you for your particular illness, and carefully follow medical advice on the dose to take, and how long to take it. Begin by thinking twice—question assumptions and ask healthcare providers for advice.