Not doing something now, in order to avoid harm in the future, is important for good health. Not overeating, for example, can prevent obesity later in life. Similarly, if you stop the incorrect use of antibiotics, you can help prevent the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Capsules of AntibioticsWhat are antibiotics?

Antibiotics prevent infections caused by bacteria, which are microscopic germs. Bacterial infections range from mild conditions such as acne, through to severe conditions like pneumonia (lung infection) or meningitis (brain infection). Antibiotics are medications that treat, and sometimes block vital processes inside the bacteria, which either kills them or stops them multiplying. They’re one of the most important inventions in medical history. Severe bacterial infections often used to kill people, until the first antibiotic (penicillin) was invented in 1939. Today there are many types of antibiotics, used for different bacterial infections.

Antibiotic resistance

Unfortunately, bacteria have started to become resistant to (stopped working against) antibiotics. The two main causes are:

  • Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them. For example, if you have a sore throat and cough, a virus is going to be the cause in 90% of cases. But antibiotics don’t work against a virus. What’s worse, your antibiotic attacks other harmless bacteria in your body, such as gut bacteria.
  • The harmless bacteria that aren’t killed by your antibiotic can have genes (DNA) that make them strong enough to resist antibiotics. These genes are passed on to harmful bacteria in the future, giving them the new power of resistance.
  • Not finishing all your antibiotic when it’s been prescribed for a bacterial infection. This allows some bacteria to survive (not enough to cause symptoms) and they can develop resistance too.

If you have an infection now caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the infection can last longer than usual and cause you serious complications or disease.

What to do

If you and other people in the world continue to incorrectly use antibiotics now, the number of bacteria that resist antibiotics will increase in the future.

This means you should:

  • Tell your GP you only want to take antibiotics for a bacterial infection – and not for colds, flu and other viral infections
  • When prescribed antibiotics, finish them all off.

For more information: Speak to your GP, visit www.nps.org.au

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