This week is World Antibiotic Awareness Week. The focus of this year’s campaign, just like in years past, is to recognize the global public health threat of antibiotic resistance — a threat, the World Health Organization reminds us, that begins at a microscopic level:
Antibiotics are medicines used to prevent and treat bacterial infections. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of these medicines.
Bacteria, not humans or animals, become antibiotic-resistant. These bacteria may infect humans and animals, and the infections they cause are harder to treat than those caused by non-resistant bacteria.
Here are some key facts that inform WHO’s global action plan:
- Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.
- Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone, of any age, in any country.
- Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.
- A growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.
- Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality.
The overuse and misuse of antibiotics are the main reasons why antibiotic resistance is such a serious problem. Poor infection prevention (like proper hand washing) and infection control make the challenge even more difficult. WHO gives marching orders to “all levels of society to reduce the impact and limit the spread of resistance.”
These are step you and I can take to be part of the solution:
- Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional.
- Never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don’t need them.
- Always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics.
- Never share or use leftover antibiotics.
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practising safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date.
- Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals.
Doctors and other healthcare professionals play a major role in causing antimicrobial resistance; we need to do better in solving the problem:
- Prevent infections by ensuring your hands, instruments, and environment are clean.
- Only prescribe and dispense antibiotics when they are needed, according to current guidelines.
- Report antibiotic-resistant infections to surveillance teams.
- Talk to your patients about how to take antibiotics correctly, antibiotic resistance and the dangers of misuse.
- Talk to your patients about preventing infections (for example, vaccination, hand washing, safer sex, and covering nose and mouth when sneezing).
The agriculture industry — including both large industrial operations and small family farms — bears responsibility as well to improve land use practices and the safe and ethical treatment of livestock:
- Only give antibiotics to animals under veterinary supervision.
- Not use antibiotics for growth promotion or to prevent diseases in healthy animals.
- Vaccinate animals to reduce the need for antibiotics and use alternatives to antibiotics when available.
- Promote and apply good practices at all steps of production and processing of foods from animal and plant sources.
- Improve biosecurity on farms and prevent infections through improved hygiene and animal welfare.
Policymakers aren’t off the hook when it comes to creating and implementing solutions to antimicrobial resistance. Tomorrow on The PediaBlog, we’ll look at how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is observing Antibiotic Awareness Week in the United States, and what steps the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents take to limit what could be considered a global public health crisis.