Taking steps to keep antibiotics working

Spring brought an unexpected turn of events in our family when we were catapulted into caring for a relative after a cancer diagnosis.

The care and support we have received from the NHS has been second to none and we have now embarked on the intended treatment course — a journey which will take about a year, and then, who knows? The Little Red Book of treatment protocols, potential side effects and emergency contact numbers is never far from reach.

It has been stressed that as treatment progresses, immunosuppression will occur, and hence the risk of infection escalates. Suddenly minor cuts and bruises, colds and tummy bugs take on more ominous significance. If in doubt, a speedy trip to A&E will be required and all will be resolved with the help of antibiotics — or will it?

Antibiotic resistance is appearing in the media on a weekly basis. The problem has escalated over the last few years. Within 100 years of the discovery of penicillin in 1928 mankind may be faced with a catastrophe potentially as or more serious than global warming — that is no means by which to fight infection.

Antibiotics were heralded as the cure-all, but the bugs they fight mutate faster than we can discover new treatments. They were over-used in particular in the closing decades of the last century by both medical and veterinary professionals, but the public has to take responsibility for applying pressure to have antibiotics dispensed.

Unless man or beast is young, old or immunosuppressed there is rarely a need for antibiotics to be used for minor ailments. It is what we have an immune system for, but it may need a little help in the form of non-antibiotic medication, nutrition and good husbandry.

As a practice over recent years, we have been monitoring our antibiotic usage. A visit to the vets will now more often involve swabs being taken to target antibiotic therapy accurately. There will be far more questions asked prior to dispensing repeat prescriptions. More time will be spent advising owners on handling, storage and administration (both dose and timing) of the medication to their pet or livestock. ‘Saving’ medication or premature cessation of treatment is just not acceptable.

We are proud to say that our practice sales of antibiotics have declined so we are doing our bit to keep antibiotics working.

By Jane Barwick-Nesbitt, Director and Vet.