Antimicrobial resistance: no action today, no cure tomorrow

Antibiotics do not work against viruses such as colds and flu and therefore are of no benefit in treating viral infections and may lead to undesirable side effects such as diarrhoea.

When bacteria develop the ability to resist antibiotics, it is more difficult to kill them or stop their growth. Resistance can occur naturally, but excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics accelerates resistance, reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics in treating bacterial infections in the future.

Dr Lorraine Doherty, Assistant Director of Public Health (Health Protection), PHA, said: “Antibiotic overuse is a serious problem and a threat to everyone’s health. We live in an era in which we depend on antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines to treat conditions. Antimicrobial resistance threatens the continued effectiveness of many medicines used today to treat infectious diseases. For instance, MRSA continues to be a major cause of community-acquired antibiotic resistant infections. Right now, we have reasonable antibiotics to treat MRSA and other serious infections, but as resistance catches up with them, in the future we will have problems again.

“I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, therefore do not work on treating colds and flu.”

Dr Brenda Bradley Pharmaceutical Public Health and Governance Lead HSCB said: “An increase in the use of antibiotics in the community may lead to an increased risk of resistance developing, so it is encouraging to see there has been no increase in the overall number of antibiotics that are being used in primary care. Antibiotic guidelines have been developed and it is also encouraging to see that the type of antibiotics being selected for use has improved, which will lead to better outcomes for patients. Patients should be guided by their GP as to whether or not they need an antibiotic, as many minor illnesses will get better without one.”

Further information on World Health Day visit

Notes to the editor

Patients should:
• follow your doctor’s advice when taking antibiotics;
• when possible, prevent infection through appropriate vaccination;
• wash your hands regularly, for instance after sneezing or coughing;
• always use antibiotics under medical prescription, do not use ‘leftovers’;
• ask your pharmacist about how to dispose of leftover medicines.

According to the 2008 study by WHO, every year at least 25,000 patients in the European Union alone die from an infection caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria.

Further information

Contact PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611.