HSE marks European Antibiotics Awareness Day – Wednesday 18th November 2020

It’s vital we curb antibiotic overuse to protect this critical medical resource

HSE Consultant Microbiologist Professor Martin Cormican: “The Covid-19 virus has reminded all of us just how dangerous an infection can be when we do not have a good drug to treat it.”

Professor Martin Cormican, Consultant Microbiologist and HSE National Lead for Antibiotic Resistance, is appealing to patients and prescribers to protect the effectiveness of this vital medical resource by using it sparingly.

On this European Antibiotics Awareness Day (Wednesday, November 18), Professor Cormican says: “Coronavirus has reminded all of us just how dangerous an infection can be when we do not have a good drug to treat it.

“One hundred years ago there were many bacterial infections that we did not have a treatment for. Infections, including typhoid, tuberculosis, meningitis, syphilis and pneumonia, destroyed lives day in and day out. When antibiotics came along they were called magic bullets because they killed the bacteria and helped people get better fast from what used to be deadly infections.

“When we see what happens even now with an infection for which we do not have a good drug treatment it reminds us how vitally important it is that we use antibiotics safely and wisely, so that we can have the benefit now and keep them working for the next generation.”  

European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) is an annual European public health initiative. The aim of EAAD is to remind everyone how valuable antibiotics are, how important it is that we use them wisely and that these amazing drugs are under threat from the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic-resistant super-bugs are spreading quickly all over the world. Even today this means that many antibiotics do not work as well as they did 20 years ago. The good news is that Ireland has a national action plan – iNap – for dealing with this challenge and if we keep working together on that plan we will slow down the superbugs and keep antibiotics working for years to come.

We can do this by remembering:

  • Antibiotics don’t work for viral illnesses – including Covid-19 – colds or flu. If you have a cold or flu, visit undertheweather.ie for advice on how to help yourself get better and when to contact your doctor for advice. If you have symptoms of Covid-19 please ring your GP;
  • Antibiotics should be taken exactly as prescribed – at the right time for the right duration; 
  • Antibiotics can cause more harm than good – such as nausea, stomach upset and in some cases serious illness;
  • Never share antibiotics or take them without  prescription.

Dr Nuala O’Connor, Irish College of General Practitioners, Lead GP Advisor on Antibiotic Resistance, says: “Antibiotics are not effective for the treatment of viruses as they only kill bacteria. Most patients coming to see their GP with symptoms of infection such as temperature, coughs, sore throat, ear ache, stuffy noses, sinus symptoms, flu aches and pains rashes vomiting and diarrhoea have viral not bacterial infections. Some will have Covid-19 and will be referred for testing by their doctor.

“It’s important that patients understand that antibiotics will do nothing to help the symptoms of viral infections, which includes Covid-19. They will not reduce a fever; relieve a cough; or relieve pain. One in 10 patients will have a side effect such as nausea, stomach upset and in some cases serious illness from taking an antibiotic. The best treatments are rest, plenty of fluids and paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat fever and pain symptoms.

“It is still important to get checked by your GP if you are worried especially for very young children, elderly patients and those with chronic medical conditions or whose immune system is suppressed to decide it they have a viral or bacterial infection. But remember, being advised you do not need an antibiotic on this occasion is a positive outcome of a visit whether virtually or in person to the doctor.”

The HSE, in partnership with general practitioners and pharmacists has a website Undertheweather.ie which gives practical, common sense advice and information on dealing with many common illnesses including colds, flu, earaches, sore throats, tummy bugs and rashes.

Undertheweather.ie provides sound advice to give us the confidence and skill we need to take care of ourselves and our families without resorting to antibiotics. #KeepAntibioticsWorking #AntibioticResistance