Antibiotic Awareness Week takes place from 18 to 24 November
The aim is to raise awareness about antibiotic resistance and to highlight the correct use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. They DO NOT treat infections caused by viruses.
Taking antibiotics when they are not needed allows bacteria to develop a resistance to the antibiotic. Bacteria can adapt and find ways to survive the effects of an antibiotic. They become ‘antibiotic resistant’ so that the antibiotic no longer works when it is needed. The more we use an antibiotic, the more bacteria become resistant to it. Antibiotic resistance is a particular threat to children, older people and those with weakened immune systems, but it can affect everyone as most of us belong to vulnerable groups at some stage in our lives.
In recent years few new antibiotics have been discovered, so we need to protect the antibiotics we have, to ensure they continue to work now and in the future.
Without effective antibiotics many routine treatments and operations will become increasingly dangerous. Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats facing us today; routine treatments and operations such as setting broken bones, bone, heart and bowel surgery and chemotherapy all rely on antibiotics to work!
Winter is coming and so we can expect coughs and colds to make an unwelcome return. It’s important to understand however that most coughs, colds and sore throats are caused by viruses, which antibiotics will not help with. Antibiotics cannot help you recover from infections caused by viruses, because they are only effective against bacterial infections. Mild infections with bacteria may also get better without antibiotics. The table below gives a useful guide are how long some common illnesses and symptoms usually last:
Most people are better by
Earache (middle ear infection)
7 to 8 days
Sinusitis (adults only)
14 to 21 days
Cough or bronchitis
If you have difficulty breathing you should of course seek immediate medical attention, but if your symptoms are mild, the best advice is to first check with a pharmacist. Community pharmacists are medicines experts, and can help advise how to treat cough and cold symptoms with over the counter treatments. Obviously if you experience any warning signs such as difficulty with breathing or sharp chest pain please contact 111 for urgent advice.
Remember if you are prescribed antibiotics by a health professional it is important that you always take them as directed; a lower dose or twice instead of three times daily may not clear the infection and will encourage antibiotic resistance to develop. Please never share your antibiotics with anyone else – they are for you only.
We all need to act now to stop the spread of antibiotic resistance, or else we may not have them for much longer!