Experts concerned about the future of antibiotics

In advance of our public meeting 'Good bugs, bad bugs and super bugs - Protecting you and your family' on 14 January 2014.

As much of the country fights off colds and flus, medical experts are urging the public to take care when using antibiotics as the threat of drug-resistant infection mounts.

Before antibiotics became available in the 1940s, people died from simple infections of the chest, throat and skin. However, experts are concerned that antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ are on the increase due to misuse and overuse of antibiotics.

In countries where antibiotics can be bought over the counter, there are increasing reports of infections in hospitalised patients that are almost untreatable because antibiotics have been so overused.

Antibiotics are the greatest medical advance of the past 100 years but they are under increasing threat, according to Dr Fidelma Fitzpatrick of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI).

“Antibiotics have utterly transformed modern medicine. Cancer treatment and surgery are completely dependent on them. Before they were available, common injuries such as cuts and scratches that became infected could result in death or serious illness because there was no treatment available.

“Thankfully, this does not happen anymore as we have antibiotics to treat these infections. However they must be used appropriately otherwise we risk returning to the pre-antibiotic era,” Dr Fitzpatrick said.

Professor Edmond Smyth, Consultant Microbiologist at Beaumont Hospital said: “The problem of antibiotic resistance in Ireland may not yet be as serious as it is in some parts of Europe but it is an important factor when deciding which antibiotic is used to treat patients with common infections like cystitis or pneumonia or those with severe life-threatening infections. Unless we take action now and use antibiotics more carefully, we will soon regularly encounter patients with untreatable infection.”

Our public meeting on 14 January 2014 will feature demonstrations and advice on how members of the public can protect themselves from picking up common bugs from award-winning community pharmacist Kathy Maher.

“We can protect ourselves from getting sick by adopting a healthy lifestyle of good food, exercise and enough sleep. And if you think you may need an antibiotic talk to your pharmacist first. They’ll give you good advice on whether you need to see a doctor or if you can treat yourself with an over-the-counter remedy,” Ms Maher said.

Donna Lecky of the Health Protection Agency in the UK will be at the public meeting conducting an entertaining demonstration of how bacteria spread. She said: “If we get the basic things right, such as hand hygiene, it will help prevent the spread of infection and prolong the lifespan of current antibiotics.”