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Antibiotic apocalypse?

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Has the sun well and truly set on antibiotics?The debate over the continuing effectiveness of antibiotics in general to fight infection in human beings continues to go on and on in the media and between health professionals. 

Antibiotics have been a class of medicine that has been very well valued by the whole of humanity for it’s ability to defeat those conveinience-inhibiting bacteria which lingers within our bodies. Even as far back as approximately 2,000 years ago, properties which treated infection were recognised within medicinal preparations.

Since then, anti-microbial treatments have been widely used for the benefit of patients and those in essential need for them. But the media in recent times has featured a long running discussion about whether we all face a very sinister crisis in the future. Could it be one day that antibiotics will become worthless?

With bacteria growing resistant to antibiotics as time goes on, that resistance then poses a threat to the general health of populations everywhere for the future as the current range of antibiotics available may not be effective to beat the bacteria. In 2010, Sarah Boseley from The Guardian wrote a very terrifying piece headlined: “Are you ready for a world without antibiotics?”

In that article, she explained how Professor Tim Walsh revealed how NDM 1, a gene he identified, consists of the property of transferring easily between enterobacteriaceae, for instance E. coli, giving them the ability to become resistant to one of the most powerful groups of antibiotics currently known called carbapenems. They are beta-lactam antibacterials - they have a broad spectrum of antibacterial activity. Imipenem is a common example of such a class of medicine.

The one thing that worries me as a community pharmacist is the alarming developments I keep hearing in the news with regard to some people (we are talking about the general population here) who are adamant that antibiotics work to combat colds and flu. I remember watching ITV’s Daybreak programme many months ago and when they interviewed members of the public about their views on this issue, the number of people who were convinced of the effectiveness of antibiotics in this context frightened me.

If I could give any advice to the Scottish Government (and the Department of Health) then it would be to really seriously consider launching an immediate public health media campaign to educate the public on the lack of effectiveness antibiotics have on beating the common cold and the flu.

We’ve had antibiotics awareness week but I feel it’s been a little too restricted in it’s appeal and that health authorities everywhere should take the initiative in ensuring that the public remain safe and enlightened so that they can make the best decisions for their own health, the health of their friends and family, for their own benefit in protecting their overall health.

If this can be achieved, then we may mitigate the apathy which potentially looms. 

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