Antimicrobial resistance – a threat to consumer health

31/08/2016 14:39

With the world marking the first ever World Antibiotic Awareness Week, which began from 16 to 22 November 2015, the Consumer Council would like consumers to understand an emerging health hazard, which is called ‘superbug’.

Antibiotics are quite popular among many Fijian households to the extent that some consumers’ complaint that doctors are not good when antibiotics are not prescribed by them.

Much of modern medicine is now underpinned by antibiotics. From tooth infection to cancer treatment to skin infection and transplants - antibiotics are essential to prevent and treat infection. Most of us have grown up with these miracle drugs which are readily available.

But have you ever imagined what can happen if we overuse antibiotics?

Well, the simple answer to this is that it will make certain strains of bacteria, parasites, and fungi, resistant to the majority of antibiotics commonly used today.  When a bacteria, parasites, and fungi, can no longer be killed by any available antibiotic, it’s called a superbug.

No doubt, this is a global problem that requires global solutions.

Here, at home, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is working closely with the WHO to develop a comprehensive multi-sectoral national action plan on Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR).  In early October this year, a stakeholders’ consultation workshop was held in Suva to discuss this health crisis and the Consumer Council of Fiji was also invited to be part of this national exercise.

The emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs is a major threat to the health and well-being of millions of consumers around the world.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Over time, bacteria adapt to the drugs that are designed to kill them, and change to ensure their survival. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm. This makes previously standard treatments for bacterial infections less effective, and in some cases, ineffective. Decades of inaction to control the use of life-saving antibiotics such as penicillin, amoxicillin and several other commonly used drugs that help fight harmful bacteria has created hard-to-treat “superbugs” that are spreading and growing stronger.

Why should we be concerned?

Imagine being sick in the hospital with a bacterial infection which doctors can't stop it from spreading. It simply means that children and adults who have common infections, once easily treatable with antibiotics, can no longer be treated. Isn’t that scary! There is a need to be concerned about antibiotic resistance. A common misconception is that a person's body becomes resistant to specific drugs. However, it is bacteria and other microbes, not people, who become resistant to the drugs. If a bacteria is resistant to many drugs, treating the infections it causes can become difficult or even impossible. And these antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread from person to person – in this way a hard-to-treat illness can be spread through the community.

Harm comes in two main ways. First, antibiotics can disrupt the body’s natural balance of good and bad bacteria, which research shows is surprisingly important to human health. Second, overuse of antibiotics breeds “superbugs”—bacteria that often can’t be controlled even with multiple drugs.

How has it become a problem?

Sir Alexander Fleming warned about the misuse of antibiotics leading to resistance, and now that’s exactly what’s happening. The spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is fueled mainly by:

  • doctors prescribing antibiotics when they aren’t needed
  • patients not finishing antibiotic prescriptions when they are needed
  • sharing antibiotics with others or using leftover prescriptions
  • routine antibiotic treatment of livestock that eventually become food.

Many consumers believe that antibiotics treats common cold and cough but the reality is that antibiotics do not treat viral illnesses like the common cold or the flu. Unfortunately, patients often ask for antibiotics to treat those illnesses anyway, and doctors often prescribe them.

How you can help tackle antibiotic resistance?

  • Using antibiotics as directed and only when needed
  • Completing the entire course, even if you feel better
  • Never sharing antibiotics with others
  • Never using leftover prescriptions
  • Do not pressure doctors or dentists for antibiotics

A new report by World Health Organisation (WHO) –reveals that this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country.

Next week, read about misuse of antibiotics in food-producing animals.