Antibiotic misuse may lead to a sick society, experts say

Simple infections may no longer be treatable by antibiotics because of the rise of so-called ‘superbugs’, according to two Irish experts in that branch of medicine.

The rapid development of more effective antibiotics, combined with their misuse, has led to the human body becoming in danger of developing resistance to them, say consultant Fidelma Fitzpatrick and GP Nuala O’Connor who will outline the consequent dangers to human health at a lecture in Dublin this evening.

“The overuse of such drugs means that bacteria can figure out how to protect themselves from antibiotics, which are designed to kill them,” said Dr Fitzpatrick, consultant microbiologist at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.

“This has led to the rise of the ‘superbugs’ and means we may be close returning to a time that simple infections are no longer treatable as the antibiotics may not work.”

The battle with antibiotic resistance and superbugs will be discussed at the final lectures of the 2014/2015 series of Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland MiniMed Lecture Series tonight. The event, entitled ‘Have the superbugs won or can we still preserve antibiotics for the next generation?’ is open free of charge to the public and will be held from 7pm to 9pm at the RCSI on St Stephen’s Green.

The lecture will be given jointly by Dr Fitzpatrick, a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology at RCSI and Dr O’Connor, who is the Irish College of General Practitioners lead adviser on antibiotic resistance.

In the talk, Drs Fitzpatrick and O’Connor will outline how antibiotics, which were hailed as miracle drugs and have transformed modern medicine, explain the threat of a return to the pre-antibiotic era if superbugs win.

“It is sobering to remember how much antibiotics have revolutionised medical practice in the last 75 years and saved millions of lives since their discovery. Then antibiotic resistance was little understood and the pipeline of new antibiotics seemed endless. There was no attempt to use these agents wisely,” said Dr Fitzpatrick, who was also the national clinical lead for healthcare-associated infection and antimicrobial resistance prevention from 2010 to 2014.

“Antibiotic resistance remains one of the greatest potential threats to human health. Everybody — both prescribers and patients —has a role in preserving these lifesaving miracle drugs for future generations.”

Dr Fitzpatrick advises patients to use antibiotics wisely: “If you are prescribed one, take it exactly as prescribed and finish the course. Don’t save antibiotics for later and don’t share them with others.”

“The website gives sensible practical information on a range of common conditions such as colds, flu, ear-aches, sore throats and tummy bugs. It tells you how long they should last, what to expect, and what you can do to cope with, and recover from, these illnesses.”

Both speakers will offer advice on appropriate use of antibiotics as well as tips that will stop the spread of superbugs and help decrease reliance on antibiotics.

Dr O’Connor also warned that antibiotics can have nasty side-effects and cause harm. “You seldom need an antibiotic from your GP; if it is a viral illness, rest and time may be the best solution but if you are prescribed antibiotics, use them correctly,” said Dr O’Connor.

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