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With the increasing threat of antibiotic resistance, we are all becoming at risk of contracting bacterial infections that we can no longer treat.

We chatted to Olive Falade, the Pharmacy manager at BMI The Park Hospital, to get her advice on antibiotics, their usage and thoughts on the topic of antibiotic resistance


Olive Falade
Pharmacy manager

BMI The Park Hospital

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medicines used to treat and sometimes prevent bacterial infections caused by microorganisms e.g. bacteria. Antibiotics work either by limiting the growth or by killing the bacteria. Some examples of antibiotics are penicillin, erythromycin and trimethoprim. Antibiotics do not have any impact on viral infections e.g. colds which are caused by viruses.


Why can I not take antibiotics for a cold? What other infections do antibiotics not work for?

1. Colds are the result of a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

2. Colds are self-limiting (this means that in most cases it will last for a specific length of time whether or not it is treated)

Antibiotics have no effect on viruses so will have no effect on colds. There is no cure for a cold. Rest, drinking plenty of fluids and a healthy diet will help you whilst your immune system does its work fighting the cold virus. Antibiotics do not work for any infection that is caused by a virus e.g. influenza (flu), measles, mumps, chicken pox, AIDs or by fungus e.g. oral thrush.


Can I still drink alcohol when taking antibiotics?

Generally it is best to avoid the combination of alcohol and medication when you are feeling unwell. For most common antibiotics drinking alcohol in moderation is unlikely to cause problems. Antibiotics may have a variety of side effects which can be worsened by drinking alcohol. Alcohol may affect the efficacy of your antibiotic by altering how the body metabolizes the drugs

There are certain drugs which MUST NOT be taken in conjunction with alcohol Tindazole and Metronidazole as the combination can cause a serious reaction symptoms of which can include breathlessness, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Avoid alcohol whilst taking these medicines and for at least 72hours (3days) after stopping the antibiotic.

Always ask your physician or pharmacist for advice on combining alcohol with your antibiotic.


Do antibiotics damage the body?

Any medicine if not used appropriately can be harmful to the patient. One of the challenges with the use of antibiotics is that natural gut flora – bacteria that are found in our digestive tract are also susceptible to the effects of the antibiotics which can affect the numbers of gut bacteria and as a result allow bad bacteria to grow. All antibiotics can cause side effects. Some antibiotics require caution in use to ensure that the levels in the body do not exceed an appropriate level and cause harm to the patient.


What is antibiotic resistance and how much of a concern is it?


Antibiotic resistance is a major concern. When you have a bacterial infection we treat it with antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance describes the ability of a bug to stop an antimicrobial from working against it, in other words that antibiotic is then not suitable to treat infections caused by that resistant strain. Resistance is attributed to inappropriate use of antibiotics e.g. using antibacterial drugs for viral infections or not using it as prescribed. The bacteria are fighting back. The concern is that if the trend continues our repertoire for treating even common infections will get smaller and smaller. We have seen the emergence of microbes which demonstrate resistance to multiple drugs ‘superbugs’.


What can be done about antibiotic resistance?

We are concerned that if we do nothing we will eventually be in a situation where antibiotics don’t work and routine treatments that require the use of antibiotics will become increasingly dangerous.

There is currently a big focus on healthcare professionals and members of the public working together to try to slow down the spread of antibiotic resistance. Something as simple as making sure that antibiotics are prescribed correctly and used appropriately will have a great impact. Education is key, patients should be empowered to manage the symptoms of self-limiting conditions e.g. colds whilst ensuring that those who DO need the antibiotics get it in a timely manner and are educated on the correct use. Antibiotics are not to be shared – they must always be prescribed after a consultation with your physician.


What is the difference between antibiotics & painkillers/anti-inflammatories (e.g. Paracetamol, ibuprofen)?

Antibiotics are medicines used to prevent or treat infections that work by inhibiting the growth of or destroy the invading microorganism. Pain killers (analgesics) are medicines used to treat pain there are different classes of analgesics/painkillers some of which have additional properties to pain relief such as reducing a high temperature or reducing swelling (or inflammation). Inflammation is a complex biological response to harmful stimuli or damage characterised by pain, swelling, heat and redness. Inflammation is not always caused by infections but it can be a symptom of an infection. Whilst treating an infection may result in reduction of swelling or pain killing, the use of pain killers or anti-inflammatory drugs will not treat an infection.


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