What everyone should know about keeping antibiotics effective

Dr Rob Shorten
Dr Rob Shorten

A campaign is continuing this week which warns of the dangers posed when antibiotics lose their effectiveness. Dr Rob Shorten told Fiona Finch why and how teams at RPH and Chorley Hospital are backing the World Antibiotic Awareness Week

The future of antibiotics depends on all of us.

The pathology team at the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust. Dr Rob Shorten is pictured front row fifth from left. (Photo:Catherine Lamoon)

The pathology team at the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust. Dr Rob Shorten is pictured front row fifth from left. (Photo:Catherine Lamoon)

It is a stark message and one which this week is being shared with both the public and health professionals.

In central Lancashire Dr Rob Shorten is leading the drive to remind hospital staff of the need to use antibiotics appropriately.

He is spearheading an information campaign timed to chime with the international World Health Organisation’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week.

Stalls are being set up in Royal Preston Hospital and Chorley Hospital and medical staff will be prompted to think again about their role.

Katie Naylor, specialist antimicrobial pharmacy technician, pictured at one of the information stands set up at the Royal Preston Hospital

Katie Naylor, specialist antimicrobial pharmacy technician, pictured at one of the information stands set up at the Royal Preston Hospital

Hospitals are the frontline when it comes to dealing with serious infections and at any one time approximately one third of all inpatients in Preston and Chorley hospitals will be receiving an antibiotic. Most clinicians prescribe them daily.

Dr Shorten, consultant clinical scientist in the Department of Microbiology, said: “We’re concentrating a week of activities for our colleagues in clinical areas to highlight that antibiotics are a precious resource to make sure we use them appropriately so they’re available for us to give our patients when we most need them. Infections caused by resistant organisms/pathogens are increasing nationally and this is particularly due to inappropriate antibiotic use. We all have a responsibility to use antibiotics and antimicrobials appropriately.”

The dual aim of the international advice week is to increase world wide awareness of the dangers antibiotic resistance – when antibiotics no longer work to defeat certain bacterial infections – creates.

It is also to encourage best practice among the general public, health workers and policy makers.

A positive side-effect will be to remind people how to cut the risk of succumbing to some common infections by following good hygiene practice, so reducing the likelihood of bacterial infections and future need for antibiotics.

For Joe Public it also means helping people understand that antibiotics are not the automatic answer to health complaints and will and should be prescribed discerningly in the interests of protecting everyone.

It is a timely opportunity to remind the public to take antibiotics as advised, complete all antibiotic courses, unless your doctor guides you not to. Observing good hygiene – washing hands.

Campaign publicity spells out the growing scale of the threat to our common wellbeing, stating: “The persistent overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human and animal health have encouraged the emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance, which occurs when microbes, such as bacteria, become resistant to the drugs used to treat them.”

Hospital staff are being told: “Infections caused by antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are increasing and we need to work as a team to ensure that we have the tools available to us when our patients need them.”

Staff from the hospitals’ microbiology, infection prevention and control, pharmacy services and the sepsis team have been stationed in clinical areas to raise awareness around the subject.

Dr Shorten, who is also Honorary Research Associate, UCL Centre for Clinical Microbiology, said there have also been competitions with prizes to lighten the information load for hospital staff and help get key messages across.

He said: “Antibiotics are precious. We’re never going to eradicate these infections completely. The advice is to take antibiotics when and as prescribed by the health provider, never to share your antibiotics.”

Those running the information events acknowledge decisions diagnoses and appropriate selection of medication are not always easy.

The cost of antibiotics can range from a few pounds to much higher price tags, another reason to ensure they are used wisely.

He said: “We all have a responsibility to use antibiotics and antimicrobials appropriately ... I think we need to do better educating and working with patients to make sure they feel educated and feel supported when the GP says, ‘I don’t think you need antibiotics and this is why’.”

At the UK Sepsis Trust chief executive officer Ron Daniels said: “Nearly 40 per cent of E.coli – the bacteria that cause a huge number of infections – are now resistant to antibiotics, and these organisms account for up to one third of episodes of sepsis – showing the vital need for responsible use of antimicrobial drugs.”

He added: “Sepsis can occur as the result of antimicrobial resistance, and is the driving need for antimicrobial stewardship. Antibiotics are the only really effective treatment for sepsis; for every hour before the correct ones administered, risk of death increases.”

At Broadway Pharmacy in Fulwood owner Michael Ball said it was understandable patients wanted a “quick fix and remedy” for infections but there was a need to understand what would work and why antibiotics are not always the answer to ills. He said: “From our perspective we’re not in control of what the GP prescribes but it’s important patients understand that antibiotics are specifically for tackling bacterial infections. Quite often at this time of year when people start to suffer from colds and other symptoms caused by viruses antibiotics are absolutely useless for treating viruses. Antibiotics are specifically to be used for treating bacterial infections.”

The campaign means we should end the week well aware not all infections require antibiotics. Dr Shorten concluded: “Antibiotics, like all drugs, can have side effects so the decision to give (or withhold) them is not taken lightly.”