An antibiotic is a type of antimicrobial substance active against bacteria. It is the most important type of antibacterial agent for fighting bacterial infections, and antibiotic medications are widely used in the treatment and prevention of such infections. They may either kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria. They are sometimes called anti-bacteria’s or antimicrobials. They can be taken by mouth as liquids, tablets, or capsules or they can be given by injection.
The resistant nature of antibiotics
Antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world. New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases. Bacteria, not humans or animals, become antibiotic-resistant. These bacteria may infect humans and animals, and the infections they cause are harder to treat than those caused by non-resistant bacteria.
Where antibiotics can be bought for human or animal use without a prescription, the emergence and spread of resistance is made worse. Similarly, in countries without standard treatment guidelines, antibiotics are often over-prescribed by health workers and veterinarians and over-used by the public.
Prevention and control
Antibiotic resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, as well as poor infection prevention and control. Steps can be taken at all levels of society to reduce the impact and limit the spread of resistance.
At the individual level: to prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance, individuals can
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practicing safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date.
- Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals.
- Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional.
- Always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics.
- Never demand antibiotic if your health worker says you don’t need them.
- Never share or use leftover antibiotics.
At the policy maker level: to prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance, policy makers can
- Regulate and promote the appropriate use and disposal of quality medicines.
- Strengthen policies, programs, and implementation of infection prevention and control measures.
- Ensure a robust national action plan to tackle antibiotic resistance is in place.
- Improve surveillance of antibiotic-resistant infections.
- Make information available on the impact of antibiotic resistance.
At the health professionals: to prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance, health professionals can
- Prevent infections by ensuring your hands, instruments, and environment are clean.
- Health care providers can minimize spread of resistant infections by use of proper sanitation and hygiene, including hand-washing and disinfecting between patients, and should encourage the same of the patient, visitors, and family members.
- Talk to your patients about preventing infections (for example, vaccination, hand washing, safer sex, and covering nose and mouth when sneezing).
- Only prescribe and dispense antibiotics when they are needed, according to current guidelines.
- Talk to your patients about how to take antibiotics correctly, antibiotic resistance and the dangers of misuse.
- Narrow-spectrum antibiotics are preferred over broad-spectrum antibiotics when possible, as effectively and accurately targeting specific organisms is less likely to cause resistance, as well as side effects.
- Report antibiotic-resistant infections to surveillance teams.
The world urgently needs to change the way it prescribes and uses antibiotics. Even if new medicines are developed, without behaviour change, antibiotic resistance will remain a major threat. Behaviour changes must also include actions to reduce the spread of infections through vaccination, hand washing, practicing safer sex, and good food hygiene.