Healthcare professionals and the public alike are being urged to consider the use of antibiotics this winter.
University of Auckland associate professor of infectious diseases Dr Mark Thomas said we all needed to be mindful of antibiotic use.
“If antibiotics are not going to make you better, what is the point in taking them.”
He said it was a “common fallacy” that antibiotics were harmless. They could cause skin rashes, diarrhea, and in rare cases can prove fatal.
“There is a chance that antibiotics will do harm, rather than good. That’s the risk we live with.”
He said about one-third to one-half of all antibiotics prescribed were unlikely to benefit the patient.
“Around half of all antibiotics prescribed are for viral complaints, but antibiotics only work against bacterial complaints.”
For winter illnesses like coughs, colds, and runny noses, the patient likely needed reassurance, not antibiotics, he said.
“Patients need realistic timeframes about symptoms and recovery. There is nothing that makes a cold go away completely, except time.”
Massey University nursing lecturer Monina Hernandez said antibiotics were not medications for symptomatic relief per se.
“They are medications that target the organisms that cause various symptoms. In some cases, viral infections are self-limiting and go away by itself.”
The body’s immune system also worked to fight off viruses.
However, relief of symptoms might be necessary if they affected people’s daily activities, Hernandez said.
“Self-care is important when someone has viral infections like the common cold or even cough which do not require antibiotics.”
Getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, sipping warm liquids, using vaporisers or humidifiers to increase air moisture, and the use of pain relief could also help ease symptoms.
“However, for best results, I would still recommended that people check with their doctors first before they use or do any of these.”
Thomas said antibiotic prescriptions were “a two-way street” between patient and doctor.
“Patients come in expecting antibiotics. Doctors don’t want to miss something or are worried they’ll lose their patient’s trust.”
He said doctors needed support to help get the message across about appropriate antibiotic use.
“There also needs to be both a carrot and a stick to doctors to help them cut back on their antibiotic reliance.”
Thomas said people’s behaviours and expectations around antibiotic use needed to change.
“The more antibiotics we use, the faster the bacteria that lives in and on us trains itself to become resistant to it.”
Hernandez said to avoid antibiotic resistance, it was important to use antibiotics the right way, at the right dose, at the right time and for the right duration.
“The sad thing with antibiotic resistance is that when the resistant bacteria starts to multiply, it will make antibiotics less and less effective. Over time, antibiotics may not work on people who have serious infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria.”
She said this would put the lives of many people at risk.
“Antibiotic resistance is a worldwide threat and people need to do their part in helping keep antibiotics work by using it properly.”