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Information on Antibiotics

What are antibiotics? 

Antibiotics are medicines that can kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria to cure infections in people, animals and sometimes plants. Antibiotics are medicines for bacterial infections (such as pneumococcal pneumonia or staphylococcal bloodstream infections); antimicrobial drugs that are effective against viruses are usually called antiviral drugs (such as those for influenza, HIV and herpes). Not all antibiotics are active against all bacteria. There are more than 15 different classes of antibiotics that differ in their chemical structure and their action against bacteria. An antibiotic may be effective against only one or multiple types of bacteria.

What is antibiotic resistance? 
Bacteria have antibiotic resistance when specific antibiotics have lost their ability to kill or stop the growth of the bacteria. Some bacteria are naturally resistant to certain antibiotics (intrinsic or inherent resistance). A more worrying problem is when some bacteria, that are normally susceptible to antibiotics, become resistant as a result of genetic changes (acquired resistance). Resistant bacteria survive in the presence of the antibiotic and continue to multiply causing longer illness or even death. Infections caused by resistant bacteria may require more care as well as alternative and more expensive antibiotics, which may have more severe side effects.
 
Everyone can play an important role in decreasing antibiotic resistance:
 
Patients: 
  • Follow your doctor’s advice when taking antibiotics. 
  • When possible, prevent infection through appropriate vaccination. 
  • Wash your hands and your children’s hands regularly, for instance after sneezing or coughing before touching other things or people. 
  • Always use antibiotics under medical prescription, not using “leftovers” or antibiotics obtained without a prescription. 
  • Ask your pharmacist about how to dispose of the remaining medicines. 

Doctors and other healthcare professionals, e.g. pharmacists and nurses

  • Prescribe antibiotics only when necessary, according to evidence-based guidelines. When possible, prescribe an antibiotic that is specific to the infection and not “broad spectrum”. 
  • Explain to patients how to relieve symptoms of colds and flu without antibiotics. 
  • Advise patients why it is important that they comply with the treatment when they are prescribed antibiotics by a doctor.