The NHS in Cumbria is supporting Antibiotic Awareness week as part of its annual winter campaign.

Antibiotics are medicines that can kill or slow the growth of bacteria to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection.

Worldwide bacteria are becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics and often this is because they are being used when they are not needed. Cumbria is no exception; if we don’t do something about it, our ability to fight infection will become dangerously fragile.

Helena Gregory, Pharmacy Lead at NHS North Cumbria CCG, said:

“The simple message is: only take antibiotics when you need them, or you’re putting yourself and others at risk.

“If taken incorrectly, antibiotics can increase the risk of spreading infections as bacteria become resistant to them. They can also cause side-effects such as nausea and diarrhoea, and so should only be taken when your doctor, nurse or pharmacist advises you to do so.

“It’s important to remember that antibiotics don’t prevent or treat viral infections - which includes COVID-19. There’s trusted clinical guidance around treating symptoms such as coughs, fever and breathlessness, and we would always urge you to listen to your GP, nurse or pharmacist’s advice around the best treatments for your symptoms.”

Dr Clare Hamson Consultant Microbiologist and lead for antimicrobial stewardship explained:

“Increasing antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest challenges we have in medicine. We need to keep antibiotics for when we really need them.

“If we use them when we don’t need them bacteria can develop resistance and infections can be harder to treat. Using antibiotics also kills your natural bacteria and that can take weeks or much longer to recover.

“Antibiotics do not work like painkillers and cannot relieve most headaches, aches, pains or fevers. They are only effective against bacterial infections and cannot help you recover from infections caused by viruses such as the common cold, flu or COVID-19.”

The worry is that we will get to a point where we can’t treat some bacterial infections because we no longer have any effective antibiotics.

An increase in bacterial infections that cannot be treated puts medical procedures such as organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy and intensive care at risk as they would no longer be safe. There would certainly be a greater risk of death from some bacterial infections.

But it doesn’t have to be like that at all.

Dr Hamson explained:

“Keeping antibiotics effective is everyone’s responsibility. Responsible use of antibiotics can help stop resistant bacteria from developing and help keep antibiotics effective for the use of future generations. On this basis, it is important to known when it is appropriate to take antibiotics and how to take antibiotics responsibly. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you if antibiotics are appropriate.”