Antibiotic Abuse

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The HSE has recently launched a three week awareness campaign Get better without antibiotics to highlight the importance of using antibiotics properly. Ireland is one of only three EU countries showing an increasing use of antibiotics.  Recent Irish research shows that medical card holders (30% of the population) account for over 50% of antibiotic use. Antibiotics are not the solution for common colds, coughs or flu; they are effective only against bacterial infections.

Dr. Robert Cunney, Consultant Microbiologist at the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), says “Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed may mean that they won’t work when you really need them for a serious infection.   The more antibiotics we use, the more bacteria (germs) can change so that the antibiotics don’t work any more. These bacteria are said to be “antibiotic resistant” and are much harder to treat and can spread to other people. We are using more and more antibiotics each year in Ireland and are seeing more infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria as a result.  We must take steps to reduce inappropriate antibiotic use.  Otherwise we risk squandering one of the most important medical advances of the past 100 years.”

Key things to remember:

  • Most common infections don’t need antibiotics.
  • Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections – they cannot help against common colds, coughs or flu.
  • Taking antibiotics when they are not needed puts your health and your family’s health at risk.
  • If your doctor decides that you need an antibiotic make sure you take it exactly as prescribed
  • Misuse of antibiotics only causes bacteria to become resistant to antibiotic treatments and when antibiotics are needed in the future they may not work.
  • Antibiotics often give side effects such as diarrhoea, nausea and skin rashes.
  • Always seek a doctor’s advice before taking antibiotics.

Further information can be found on the HSE website.

It was the radio advertisement for this awareness campaign that caught my attention. I’d be interested to hear your comments on it.

5 Responses to Antibiotic Abuse

  1. I loathe, hate and detest antibiotics – I consider them a necessary evil (and sometimes a very unnecessary evil!). I think they are generally over-prescribed and I’m sure that much of my ill health in the past few years was directly as a result of being overdosed on antibiotics as a baby and child – I reckon the intestinal flora was so wiped out that it set me up for long term trouble. I live on probiotics now – and yet how many doctors when prescribing antibiotics today, bother to prescribe probiotics with them. To me, antibiotics are all too often the “lazy” solution.

  2. Ian says:

    Steph,

    I’m not sure that the 30% using 50% statistic means very much – the medical card is held by the poorer and older sections of the population, both of which tend to have more health problems. Nor , I suspect, does it take into account the number of people who stock up on antibiotics while in Spain and other places.

    Ian

    – who yesterday paid a friend €13.80 for three Ventolins. Half the price of the Irish ones and no need to pay €60 to see the doctor to get a ‘times-six’ prescription, so actually the Spanish ones cost a quarter of the price!

  3. Steph says:

    Cheers! AV

    I’m thrilled with your response. Antibiotics are as you say, a ‘lazy’ solution. Over-prescribing of unnecessary antibiotics is responsible for creating the huge problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria (MRSA, Streptococcus pneumoniae, E.coli and VRE) which now thrive in our hospitals and threaten the lives of those already immuno-compromised. They are also as you say, a ‘necessary evil’. Cystic fibrosis (CF) patients for example, could not survive without antibiotics. I’ve been told categorically that I wouldn’t be here if there were no antibiotics available to treat my severe sinus infections so while I’ve paid the price in terms of MRSA infection and gut disturbance, I’m grateful to be alive!

    Hi there! Ian

    Those statistics as you probably guessed, came from the HSE! You hit the nail on the head when you mention the over-the-counter availability of antibiotics in places like Spain. The HSE awareness campaign is aimed at educating those who think that antibiotics are a cure for every ill. It will also tackle GP’s to limit the use of wide-spectrum antibiotics and generally encourage less antibiotic prescribing.

    Ian, I’m very lucky in that my mild asthma is well-controlled by the use of a preventer inhaler (Symbicort) but I still keep Ventolin (in 2 locations) for unexpected wheeze attacks. My other drugs cost well over the base payment of €90 per month and so any additional prescriptions such as inhalers are thankfully covered by the Drugs Repayment Scheme. If Harney gets her way, that will probably stop too. My frequent sinus infections mean regular trips to the GP/specialist so I always make sure to get my inhaler prescription updated at the same time to save on further expenditure. The ‘times six’ prescription is meant to be a safety measure, to bring people back for a review of their condition but it also happens to be a good money spinner! 😉

  4. Baino says:

    I think they are totally overprescribed. Adam was prone to ear infections as a child and is now completely immune to one of the more popular broad spectrum antibiotics. I’ve even had doctors suggest a prescription ‘just in case’ a cold goes to the chest or sinus. Of course there are good reasons to use them but they really must be prescribed judiciously.

    Ian I’m amazed re your Spanish Ventolin! Clare went to get some Pulmacort in La Caruna and they were going to charge her 29 Euro because she didn’t have a health card. She was pretty poorly with a fever and feinted so they took pity on her and gave it to her for free! It’s pretty exe here too. About $25 per spray and no medical benefit.

  5. Steph says:

    Cheers! Baino

    As I commented to Ian, the HSE campaign is also being targeted at GPs to put a stop to the practice of prescribing antibiotics ‘just in case’. This campaign was originally targeted at hospital doctors to limit the use of antibiotics on the wards in an effort to reduce drug resistant infections. I’d love to hear from a hospital doc to find out what effect if any, this has had on hospital practice.

    To my shame I don’t actually know how much my Symbicort turbo inhaler costs as it’s included with all my other medications under the Drugs Repayment Scheme. Here, you pay the first €90 per month (which covers whole family) for prescribed medication and after that all other prescriptions are fully covered. I know there was talk that Harney was going to limit cover for asthma medication but it thankfully hasn’t happened… as yet!

    Not long to go now Baino before the said daughter returns! 😀

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