Keep antibiotics working

World Antibiotic Awareness Week: 12th -18th November 2018

At some point in our lives, most of us will have had a course of antibiotics for a simple bacterial infection, such as a chest infection, urinary tract infection, or tonsillitis. This treatment probably worked effectively, and it’s likely that you felt much better quite quickly before you suffered any complications. However, what if that simple infection couldn’t be treated effectively in the future? What if you took antibiotics and they had no effect whatsoever? Unfortunately, this scenario is becoming increasingly common.

The effectiveness of antibiotics is fast-reducing and treating infections is becoming more difficult as bacteria become increasingly resistant. It is estimated that, each year, 50,000 lives are lost in Europe and the US to antibiotic-resistant infections. Globally, at least 700,000 people die worldwide and that figure is estimated to exceed 10 million each year by 2050*.

This November, Simplyhealth Professionals is joining the worldwide call to encourage both health professionals and patients to think about their antibiotic use.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics kill bacteria, the microorganisms that can cause infections in our bodies. While our immune systems can fight off many simple infections effectively, it is sometimes difficult for our bodies alone to combat certain infections without the help of antibiotics. If infections aren’t effectively treated, it can lead to life-threatening conditions such as sepsis. According to the UK Sepsis Trust, there are over 44,000 lives lost to sepsis each year, and many of these deaths are due to untreatable antibiotic resistant infections**.

Antibiotics have NO effect on viruses, such as common colds and flu.

Why are antibiotics important?

When Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic properties in 1928, little did he know how this would revolutionise modern medicine. By the end of the Second World War, antibiotics such as penicillin were being mass produced and were saving millions of lives. Antibiotics kept soldiers on the front line, and hospital wards were no longer full of people dying from common infections and diseases.

For many decades, we have been fortunate that countless infections and diseases that would have once claimed millions of lives have been possible to treat, thanks to antibiotics. They have made chemotherapy, surgical operations, and procedures such as caesarean sections so much safer. We take it for granted that antibiotics will always be effective. However, we now know that, without immediate action, many antibiotics will cease to be effective.

Why are bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics?

While sensitive bacteria are often killed by antibiotics, some bacteria find a way to resist antibiotics. These surviving bacteria then multiply, and these new bacteria are then more likely to be resistant to antibiotics too.

The more we take antibiotics unnecessarily, the more we contribute to the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This means that if you need antibiotics in the future, they may no longer be effective for you or other people.

Antibiotics in dental care

Dentists account for around 9% of all antibiotic prescriptions in UK primary care***. This could be reduced if both dental professionals and patients are mindful of their approach to antibiotics.

Rethinking your approach to antibiotics:

  • Visit your dental team regularly to help prevent dental problems before they start or worsen.

  • If you are suffering with toothache, see your dentist, not your GP, to receive the most appropriate care. Toothache is usually caused by dental decay, which antibiotics won’t cure.

  • Trust your dentist’s judgement on whether they decide to prescribe you antibiotics or not – most of the time you don’t need them.

  • Antibiotics are not painkillers. Speak to your dentist about managing any dental pain you might have. They can advise on the most effective ways to alleviate your pain, such as appropriate dental treatment, pain medication, ice packs, or salt water rinses. Antibiotics won’t always help with this.

  • Prevent infections by practicing good oral hygiene and personal hygiene.

  • Only use antibiotics as directed and finish the entire course as prescribed – never save them for later.

  • Never share antibiotics prescribed to you with anyone else.

  • Antibiotics can cause unpleasant side effects such as diarrhoea, nausea or skin rashes, so it’s important to take them only when absolutely necessary and under the instruction of a health professional.

*Review on Antimicrobial Resistance –


***British Dental Association

antibiotic jar