November 18 to 24 is World Antibiotics Week, and this period aims to increase global awareness of the uses of antibiotics, the growing challenge of antimicrobial resistance and responsible antibiotic use.

Antibiotics are one of many important inventions in modern medicine. Apart from being able to cure disease by killing bacteria, antibiotics have also played an important role in extending life expectancy.

One of the biggest challenges at present is antimicrobial resistance, which occurs when microbes like bacteria become resistant to antimicrobials such as antibiotics or antivirals. When this happens, it becomes even more difficult to treat a bacterial infection.

According to the World Health Organisation’s Report on Surveillance of Antibiotic Consumption between 2016 and 2018, some of the bacterial infections that have become more difficult to treat due to antimicrobial resistance include gonorrhoea, tuberculosis, urinary tract infections and foodborne diseases, among others. A big part of solving this problem is not only the need to start rapidly developing new drugs that can fight antimicrobial resistance, but it is also equally about increasing the awareness of antibiotic misuse, which happens in a number of ways.

So how does one ensure that they are not misusing or abusing antibiotics?

It’s first important to understand the purpose of antibiotics. According to the Mayo Clinic, antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial infections, not viral infections. An example of a bacterial infection is pneumonia, tuberculosis, an eye infection or food poisoning. An example of a viral infection is the common flu or cold, chickenpox and HIV/AIDS.

With that in mind, one common pattern of antibiotic misuse is the overuse of antibiotics. This is usually in the form of taking antibiotics whenever one falls sick, regardless of how serious the illness is, and even if there is no bacterial infection present. This is dangerous, as it aids in the development of antimicrobial resistance.

A second and common form of antibiotic misuse is the use of the wrong antibiotic dosage. It’s vital that one consumes antibiotics as per the dosage indicated by your healthcare practitioner. Do not change the dosage amount or the dosage duration, as this can quickly affect the effectiveness of the antibiotic or antiviral. While it’s tempting to stop taking antibiotics once you feel better, doing this can cause the bacterial infection to return and might take longer to treat.

The third form of antibiotic misuse is reserving part of your antibiotics for a later illness. This is also dangerous, as antibiotic types vary depending on the bacterial infection, and antibiotics are not to be treated as ‘one-size-fits-all’ medication.

One way to combat antibiotic misuse and abuse is responsible antibiotic use and this includes consuming antibiotics as per your prescribed dosage and duration, as well as educating and empowering yourself on responsible antibiotic use, which is also known as antibiotic stewardship.

ASI’s origins are rooted in empowerment, and we understand that information and education are key to this. By providing tailor-made advisory services, we ensure that your educational empowerment stays evergreen.

In addition to your personal educational empowerment on antibiotic use, supporting initiatives such as the South African Antibiotic Stewardship Programme also go a long way towards educating our countries communities on responsible antibiotic use.