Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics are medicines used to treat bacterial infections in people and animals. Bacteria are living organisms. They mutate and evolve. Bacteria can develop and share ways to survive the effects of an antibiotic. Bacteria is resistant to antibiotics when antibiotics no longer kill bacteria.

Using antibiotics to treat health conditions or illnesses

Antibiotics have different strengths.  A doctor can prescribe antibiotics to treat infections such as pneumonia, meningitis or cellulitis. 

Many medical treatments depend on having effective antibiotics including:

  • cancer chemotherapy
  • organ transplant
  • intensive care of premature babies
  • major surgery

Health conditions or illnesses antibiotics cannot treat

Colds and the flu are viral infections. Antibiotics don’t treat viral infections such as colds or the flu. Taking antibiotics won’t help your symptoms. Ask your GP or a pharmacist about cold and flu remedies.

How antibiotic resistance threatens health

The more you take antibiotics, the more bacteria may become resistant to them. 

If antibiotic resistance increases:

  • many infectious diseases could become untreatable
  • medical and surgical practices such as a hip replacement could become riskier

Reducing antibiotic prescriptions

Only doctors and dentists can prescribe antibiotics. To reduce the amount of antibiotics prescribed:

  • practise good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of infection
  • speak to your GP or a pharmacist before you ask for an antibiotic
  • finish the full course of antibiotics even if you feel better
  • don’t save antibiotics to take the next time you’re unwell
  • don’t give your antibiotics to anyone who is unwell
  • don’t pressure your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic if they say you don’t have a bacterial infection
  • become an Antibiotic Guardian
  • Hand hygiene

Sharing antibiotics

You shouldn’t give your antibiotics to other people.  Your antibiotics might not be suitable for treating their illness. Taking the wrong medicine might delay them getting the right treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.

Antibiotic Guardian

The Antibiotic Guardian website has information about:

  • treating cold and flu symptoms
  • caring for children when they’re unwell
  • hand hygiene

To read more and sign the Antibiotic Guardian pledge, go to:

Antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) usually refers to antibiotics.  AMR also includes other drugs such as:

  • antivirals
  • antifungals
  • antimalarials

To read the UK government’s report on how to reduce unnecessary prescribing and help prevent bloodstream infections, go to:

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