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The importance of using Antibiotics correctly. Know the Facts and be Winter ready

To mark European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) on Monday 18 November, Galway University Hospitals is highlighting awareness and knowledge around the correct use of antibiotics.

Winter is the the prime season for respiratory infections, colds and flu and so it is important to be able to identify illnesses where antibiotics are not the answer.

Taking antibiotics you don’t need can make you sick.  Like all medicines they can have side effects. This means that it is safer not to use them except when we need them. They can cause skin rash, diarrhoea, thrush or other side effects.  If you don’t need an antibiotic you take the risk of side effects for nothing.  Antibiotics can also interfere with other medicines such as cholesterol lowering tablets, blood thinning tablets so always check with your doctor or pharmacist. Antibiotics are priceless for serious bacterial infections but antibiotics do not work for colds or flu so doctors prefer not to give you an antibiotic when it can’t help you. 

Professor Martin Cormican, Consultant Microbiologist, Galway University Hospitals and HSE National Lead for Antibiotic Resistance says, “Antibiotics are not effective for the treatment of viruses - 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.

“Antibiotics will do nothing to help the symptoms of viral infections.  They will not make you feel better. They will not reduce a fever; they will not relieve a cough; they will not relieve pain.  1 in 10 patients will have a side effect such as nausea, stomach upset and in some cases serious illness from taking an antibiotic.  Your own immune system can fight viruses if you give it chance.  Rest, take plenty of fluids and use paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat fever and pain symptoms.

“However 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 to the doctor.”

·         Antibiotics don’t work for colds or flu. If you have a cold or flu, visit for
          advice on how to help yourself get better and ask your doctor for advice if you are concerned

·         Antibiotics should be taken exactly as prescribed - at the right time for the right duration

·         Never share antibiotics or take them without prescription

·         If for any reason you have antibiotics that you did not take ask your pharmacy if they can dispose of
          them safely for you.

Remember to help prevent infections by making sure you and your loved ones get all the recommended immunisations available.  Stop infections spreading by coughing or sneezing in to your elbow or a tissue, washing your hands regularly and staying at home from crèche, school or work until you feel better.

Martin Cormican, Consultant Microbiologist, Galway University Hospitals and HSE National Lead for Antibiotic Resistance.

The article above is specific to the following Saolta hospitals:: 
University Hospital Galway (UHG)