Next week is World Antibiotics Awareness Week (November 14 to 18), which reminds us all how valuable these medicines are and how important it is that we only use them when necessary.
When we get very ill, antibiotics can be life-savers, for example against meningitis, and they can help us fight kidney infections, pneumonia and other serious illnesses. They also help make chemotherapy more effective for cancer patients.
However, if we over-use them, the bugs they treat build up a resistance to them, which means they won’t work for us when we really need them to.
At this time of year, many of us get coughs, colds and tummy bugs, which can make us feel dreadful. Children are particularly susceptible to them when they mix with other youngsters at school or nursery. But antibiotics may not be the answer – because they do not work against viruses, which are the main cause of common winter illnesses. In fact, they can make things worse and have unpleasant side effects such as vomiting, diarrhoea and rashes.
So please, if you or your child falls victim to a winter virus, do not visit your GP expecting a prescription for antibiotics, as these may not be the most suitable treatment. Instead, drink plenty of fluids and rest at home. You can ask a pharmacist for advice on common symptoms like sore throats, high temperature and runny noses.
When deciding whether or not you should see your doctor, it’s worth bearing in mind the average duration of common winter illnesses; you can expect an ear infection to last four days, a sore throat up to seven days, a common cold or flu 10 days, and a cough or bronchitis up to three weeks.
However you should visit a GP if your symptoms last longer than three weeks, you become breathless, have chest pains or an existing chest condition, or if you have any other symptoms that are causing you concern. If you do receive antibiotics, finish the course and never share them with anybody else.
The most effective way to beat bugs is through prevention. Hand washing with soap and water stops the spread of common infections, so make hygiene a priority to keep you well this winter