Today (18th November) represents many things: it’s the 322nd day of 2013; it’s Latvian Independence Day and – at least according to Google – it’s International Mickey Mouse Day. Most importantly it’s also European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD). So put down your Latvian flag, postpone that trip to the Disney store and read on…
European Antibiotic Awareness Day is a public health initiative aimed at encouraging responsible use of antibiotics; it’s held on the 18th of November every year. It offers an opportunity to highlight the problem of antimicrobial resistance and encourage all across health and social care to take action against it.
Antimicrobial resistance, in particular antibacterial resistance, is a growing problem both here in the UK and across the globe. Throughout the UK bacterial infections are commonplace and are estimated to account for one in five days taken off work. Normally a swift course of GP-prescribed antibiotics ensures that the majority of these infections are staved off. However, when antibiotic resistance occurs problem-causing bacteria are able to survive the medicines aimed to destroy them with the result that treatments become ineffective. In 2009, it was estimated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) that antibiotic resistance costs the EU about €1.5 billion in healthcare expenses and lost productivity each year.
The implications of antibiotic resistance extend far beyond economic costs. According to Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, without antibiotics our healthcare system could return to a 19th century environment where routine operations could be fatal because of the bacterial infections incurred. In addition, many cancer treatments or organ transplants could be near impossible.
By its very nature, antibiotic resistance cannot be eradicated, but it can be managed to limit the threat to human and animal health. This requires a multi-faceted approach including improving infection prevention and control measures, optimising prescribing practices and prioritising research needs.
Indiscriminate or inappropriate use of antibiotics is a key driver in the spread of antibiotic resistance. GPs prescribe 35 million courses of antibiotics in England alone each year and the vast majority of surgical procedures invoke antibiotics. These medicines are also commonplace in farming practices and are routinely given to animals, both as treatments and as preventative measures for healthy animals. Action must be taken to ensure that antibiotics are used only when absolutely necessary and are not relied on as an ‘easy option’.
Research into new treatments is also vital; no new classes of antibiotic have been discovered since 1987. Investigation of alternative approaches such as vaccines as well as point of care diagnostics is also critical.
Increasing public awareness of antibiotic resistance and its implications is of upmost importance. This is where European Antibiotic Awareness Day steps in. In many cases, patients expect to be prescribed antibiotics for illnesses caused by viruses such as sore throats, colds, and flu. However, in the absence of rapid diagnostics, antibiotics are often prescribed. It is vital that patients and prescribers are educated about antibiotic resistance to avoid unnecessary use. Patients must also understand the importance of completing a prescribed course of antibiotics.
The Biochemical Society supports the work of Antibiotic Action, a campaign which seeks to inform and educate all about the need for discovery, research and development of new antibiotics. It contributes to national and international activities and acts as a conduit through which all stakeholders are educated on the importance of new ways to treat bacterial infections.
To mark European Antibiotic Awareness Day, why not sign Antibiotic Action’s petition which calls on politicians and policy makers across the world take global action to discover, research and develop new antibacterial drugs and treatments? It is vital to the health of all nations that antibiotics remain the mainstay of modern medicine and are available to all who need them.
In the meantime, priekā! (That’s ‘cheers’ in Latvian…).