By Siphokazi Zama
Antibiotics: familiar to us as the little pills that make you feel better, but defined as “a substance such as penicillin that is capable of destroying or weakening certain microorganisms, especially bacteria or fungi that cause infections or infectious diseases.” But it is precisely because of their power and effectiveness that antibiotics have been over-prescribed and misused for so long.
The opening event of the RU Pharmacy Week was a talk given by Jacqui Jooste of the Pharmacy Department, entitled Know Your Antibiotics. It focused on the correct use of these wonder pills.
According to Jooste, one of the biggest challenges faced by the medical community worldwide is how to control infections outside the hospital environment, and the rise of drug-resistant infections.
“We have a health security crisis and infections are becoming resistant to antibiotics,” said Jooste.
Jooste said if all the microbes in the planet were left to replicate without being killed by antiseptics or antimicrobials, the weight of the microbes would equal the weight of the earth in just two weeks.
A 2007 study done in the Netherlands found antibiotics are grossly misused in agriculture. Farmers give antibiotics to various livestock to increase their muscle mass and to keep them healthy. By consuming this meat, resistant bacteria can be spread from animal products to humans, causing infections such as E.coli.
How can the misuse of antibiotics be curbed?
First, the use of antibiotics must be controlled in agriculture.
Second, the misuse of antibiotics can be curbed by the doctors themselves. According to Jooste, before an antibiotic is prescribed for a patient, a culture must be taken from the patient and the infecting organisms identified, so that the doctor can prescribe a correct antibiotic. The need for profit, especially in the private sector, also fuels the problem of irrational prescribing of antibiotics.
Third, there are the patients. Patients are demanding antibiotics from doctors unnecessarily. An example of this would be in the treatment of diarrhoea. Diarrhoea should be treated with fluid replacement, but there is a trend of using antidiarrhoeals to stop diarrhoea. These drugs simply “dry” the patient up, but the bug remains.
We want to get better faster, so we demand antibiotics.
Patients also do not finish their course of antibiotics. The infection will then remain in the patient which could be carrying the resistant microbes. Antibiotics should also not be shared between people because they are specifically prescribed for the intended patient.
Jooste warned that “antibiotic misuse affects us all. If this continues, all bugs/infections could be resistant to all antibiotics by the time you have kids. We will simply have no treatment options left”.