"No action today, no cure tomorrow" - World Health Day 2011
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We've all seen the pleas in hospitals and GP surgeries regarding antibiotic usage, and yesterday was deemed 'World Health Day' by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The day, including the slogan above, was to make us all aware of antibiotics and the threat of antibiotic resistance on health.
What is an antibiotic?
So, antibiotics. It's a word us scientists and healthcare professionals throw around the place, but what does it exactly mean?
When somebody sees the word 'antibiotic' they often think of 'Penicllin, Flemming and Mould'. Which is correct.. to some extent.
The world of antibiotics began in the early 1900s when Alexander Flemming made a discovery when one of his experiments went wrong (Loads of my experiments go wrong but I'm not as lucky as Flemming to actually discover something 'useful').
What he discovered was that when his plate got contaminated with a certain mould (Penicillium) it inhibited the growth of bacteria.
This is essentially what an antibiotic is - A medicine that destroys/kills
Or.. the Oxford Dictionary's version - A medicine (such as penicillin or
its derivatives) that inhibits the
growth of or destroys
The Oxford dictionary uses the term 'microorganisms' which means (any tiny organism including; bacteria, viruses and fungi), this is wrong as ALL of us microbiologists know that an antibiotic can't be given to someone with a viral or fungal infection. So, if I don't say so myself.. I prefer my definition.
What is antibiotic resistance?
This leads us smoothly onto resistance. So, an antibiotic can kill bacteria.. Great! However, unfortunatly for us these clever little creatures have developed 'resistance' to some antibiotics (Which isn't what we or Flemming would have wanted).
Basically, if an antibiotic isn't taken for the full course (to kill off the infection) and is only taken until the individual feels better then this can lead to antibiotic resistance.
This is because, even tho you feel healthy, not all the bacteria would have been killed off (there will be a few remaining that haven't quite died yet). These few remaining bacteria, being the last to be killed off,will be more 'resistant' to that antibiotic and if you're ill again you would need a higher dose or a different antibiotic to treat them.
This is why 'completing the FULL course' is SO IMPORTANT in stopping antimicrobial resistance.
What about colds?
So I've started off by saying you should complete the full course of antibiotics to stop resistance. Unfortunatly taking antibiotics unnecessarily can also lead to resistance.
If you have a viral infection (Cold and Flu) and you take antibiotics (which will have no effect at killing the virus or make you feel better) then this can cause your own 'healthy' bacteria (in your gut etc.) to become resistant to that type of antibiotic.
Now these bacteria are harmless in your gut, in fact you're probably thinking 'Great, Super good bacteria'. Well I'm sorry to burst your bubble but if you were to get a Urinary infection* ladies (I say 'ladies' as it's more common than men) then this could mean the 'super good bacteria' have now become 'super bad bacteria' and a different antibiotic is needed.
* For those that don't know a Urinary infection (UTI, cystitis, bladder infection) is an infection of the urinary tract, that causes an increase and pain when going to the toilet. This is caused simply by bacteria from your lower gut making their way up the urethra (which is shorter in females) to the bladder.
Wash your hands
Ok.. this doesn't stop antibiotic resistance but it stops the spread of an infection, that could be antibiotic resistant.
It makes sense that if you have an infection and don't wash your hands that you are likely to pass it onto someone else via 'hand to hand' transmission.
E.g. If I had MRSA on my hands, and I was to shake a doctor's hands, who would then insert a needle into a patient. This situation, without hand washing, would almost certainly cause the patient to have MRSA which could cause an infection under the right circumstances.
Therefore washing hands, as simple as it seems is an easy way to prevent the transmission of organisms that might be antibiotic resistant.
So hopefully this has made you aware of how important stopping antibiotic resistance is.
Organisms like MRSA and the new NDM-1 gene in certain bacteria are rendering antibiotics useless, and new antibiotics aren't readily available.
This is why everyone needs to help in the fight against antibiotic resistance. It's a serious world health issue that affects us all.
Thanks for reading :-)