Taking antibiotics when you don't need them puts you and your family at risk

Antibiotic resistance

What you need to know about antibiotic resistance to help protect your family’s future

Why is antibiotics resistance an issue?

Over the past few weeks you may have seen a lot of scary headlines that warn of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” and “the end of modern medicine”, but what is antibiotic resistance and what can we all do to help tackle the problem?

Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections, such as meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis, but they are frequently being used to treat illnesses, such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves. Taking antibiotics encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant. That means that antibiotics may not work when you and your family really need them.

It is estimated that at least 5,000 deaths are caused every year in England because antibiotics no longer work for some infections and this figure is set to rise with experts predicting that in just over 30 years antibiotic resistance will kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined.

What should I do?

No one likes being sick and it’s especially upsetting when your child is ill but it’s important to remember that antibiotics aren't always needed. Simply, always trust your doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s advice as to when you need antibiotics and if they are prescribed, take antibiotics as directed and never save them for later use or share with others.

How can I look after my family when they are sick?

If you or a family member are feeling unwell, have the flu, sore throat or ear ache, or you haven’t been prescribed antibiotics, here are some effective self-care ways to help you and other family members feel better:

  • Ask your pharmacist to recommend medicines to help with symptoms or pain
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink enough fluids to avoid feeling thirsty
  • Use paracetamol if you or your child are uncomfortable as a result of fever – which is a sign of the body fighting infection, and normally gets better by itself in most cases
  • Use tissues for your nose and wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading your infection to family and friends

If you or your child are getting worse or are sicker than you would expect, even if your or their temperature falls, trust your instincts and seek medical advice urgently from NHS 111 or your GP.

How do antibiotics work?

Antibiotics are essential medicines that are prescribed to treat a bacterial infection. They either kill the bacteria directly or stop them replicating and spreading.

What do the experts say?

The medical community agrees that antibiotic resistance is a threat to our future.

Professor Paul Cosford, Medical Director at Public Health England, says:
“Without urgent action from all of us, common infections, minor injuries and routine operations will become much riskier. It is important for people to understand that if they are feeling under the weather and see their GP or a nurse, antibiotics may not be prescribed if they are not effective for their condition, but they should expect to have a full discussion about how to manage their symptoms.”

Dr Chris Van Tulleken, TV and of infectious diseases doctor at University College London Hospitals, comments:
“Antibiotic resistance is a problem that will affect every one of us, so we all have a role to play. Always take their advice and remember that your pharmacist can recommend medicines to help with your symptoms or pain.”