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Doctors warn resistance to antibiotics is becoming a worrying issue

The European Antibiotic Awareness Day, held every year on 18 November, is a Europe-wide public health initiative which encourages responsible use of antibiotics.

Antibiotics only work against infections that have been caused by bacteria, and as all colds and most coughs and sore throats are caused by viruses antibiotics won’t work.  The best treatment is to drink plenty of fluids and to rest.

Resistance to antibiotics is becoming a worrying issue for health professionals not just in the East Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen areas but nationally.  The number of infections due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria is growing globally and is related to the over-use of antibiotics.  Bacteria can adapt and find ways to survive the effects of an antibiotic. They become ‘antibiotic resistant’, so that the antibiotic no longer works. The more often an antibiotic is used, the more likely it is that bacteria will become resistant so when antibiotics are needed in the future they may no longer work.

Dr David White, a Burnley GP and clinical lead for unplanned care at East Lancashire CCG, said: “Antibiotics are a crucial part of our armoury against bacterial infections.  Many people ask for antibiotics to treat illnesses such as colds and flu but these are viruses which will not respond to antibiotic treatment, just like they wouldn’t respond to say a sunscreen.

Of course, prevention is better than cure, so appropriate immunisation, good hygiene and first aid of skin wounds are important too.  We need to use antibiotics carefully because, like any medicine, they can cause serious side-effects if used incorrectly and their over-use leads to bacterial resistance which makes them less effective when they are really needed.“

There are very few new antibiotics in the development pipeline, which is why it is important to use existing antibiotics wisely and make sure these life-saving medicines continue to stay effective for ourselves and future generations.

Dr Zaki Patel, clinical lead at Blackburn with Darwen CCG, added: “Please don’t ask your doctor to prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily; they will only be prescribed when there is a clinical reason.  Antibiotics may be life-saving for infections such as meningitis but by appropriate use of them, they are more likely to be effective when they are really needed.

There are many over the counter medicines to help ease symptoms of coughs and colds including paracetamol, but please ask a pharmacist for advice.  Community pharmacists are well placed to help provide advice on over the counter medicines to treat symptoms.  If the cold lasts more than three weeks, or you become breathless, have chest pains, or already have a chest complaint, then see your doctor.

I would also urge anyone who is aged over 65, or who is pregnant, or has a serious medical condition including a chronic (long-term) respiratory disease (severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis), diabetes, chronic kidney or liver disease, or a weakened immune system that may have been caused by chemotherapy, to contact their GP practice to arrange for a flu vaccination, if they have not already done so.”

Further information can be found on the following website: www.nhs.uk/antibiotics