Dr Anita, GPpartners
Concerns are growing within the medical and scientific communities about the rapid spread of multidrug-resistant bacteria, against which it is feared antibiotics could be useless within a decade.
A summit held in Sydney earlier this year heard no new-generation antibiotic drugs powerful enough to deal with the so-called ‘superbugs’ were in development, and the Federal Government has been called upon to intervene.
Experts say a national strategy is needed to specifically address this challenge or we face turning back the clock to the 1930s, to a time before the introduction of penicillin, when operations and infections often had fatal consequences.
The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been associated with inappropriate use of antibiotics in human medicine and the widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed.
It is now increasingly being recognised that antibiotics are a precious resource, crucial to the management of many potentially fatal infections, and that in order to actively safeguard their effectiveness it is necessary to reduce our reliance on them.
Whether in hospital or in the community, there are principles to minimise the use of antibiotics and also to lessen the chance that antibiotic resistance can be developed in the patient.
For example, GPs may seek to avoid prescribing antibiotics for patients with upper respiratory infections and acute bronchitis because these conditions are most often caused by viruses.
Randomised trials have shown antibiotics have limited or no impact in these clinical situations, so restricting their use can help to limit the development of resistant bacteria.
By the same token, when a GP advises their patient to finish the full course of prescribed antibiotics it is done partly to ensure none of the harmful bacteria can survive and go on to develop a level of resistance.
While governments address the bigger picture, strategies to encourage prudent use of antibiotics and better infection control will prove critical in reducing incidences of antibiotic resistance.
But it will require sustained effort on the part of patients, as well as doctors, to keep the superbugs at bay.