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Antibiotic resistance and respiratory tract infections

The development of antibiotics in the mid 20th century was regarded as a miracle for modern medicine. Lethal ailments such as bacterial wound infections and tuberculosis suddenly became treatable saving millions of lives. However the miracle of antibiotics is under dire threat.

Overuse and misuse of these 'wonder drugs' has led to an increase in bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Bacterial infections that were previously easy to treat are becoming harder to treat and sometimes even lethal.

The World Health Organisation describes the impact of antibiotic resistance as 'one of the greatest threats to human health'.

Recent evidence in this area highlights the existence of antibiotic resistance at an individual level. Studies show that after a single course of antibiotics, individuals can carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria for up to 12 months. Prescribing an antibiotic for a self-limiting infection, such as a cold or flu, means that they may be less effective when they are need to treat a severe infection in the future.

In some cases, patients may request antibiotics to treat their cold or flu, and GPs may feel pressure to prescribe them. Evidence from general practice, however, demonstrates that patient satisfaction is more likely to be influenced by good communication than a prescription for an antibiotic, so it’s worth investing the time to discuss why an antibiotic may not be needed for a patient's self-limiting infection.

A treatment plan that focuses on symptomatic management can satisfy patients and help reduce inappropriate antibiotic prescribing. NPS provides symptomatic management pads for GPs and pharmacists to use in consultation with their patients. These can be ordered or downloaded.

GPs, pharmacists, nurses and other health professionals may be well placed to discuss antibiotic resistance with their patients, explaining:

  • Antibiotic resistance is when antibiotics no longer work against the (bacterial) infection that they previously worked against.
  • Infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria can be difficult to treat and last for a long time.
  • Antibiotic resistant bacteria that cause infections can spread to family and friends.
  • Using antibiotics only when needed and taking them as directed can help to prevent the spread of resistant bacteria.

Read more in:

NPS News 77: Antibiotic resistance - a problem for everyone
NPS news77: Antibiotic resistance - a problem for everyone
Go to the resource page
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Prescribing Practice Review 57: Antibiotic resistance and respiratory tract infections
PPR57: Antibiotic resistance and respiratory tract infections
Go to the resource page

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