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Too much of a good thing?

Friday 25 November 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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Too much of  a good thing?
Pharmacists Annaliese Cooper and Andrew Orange work at Rarotonga Hospital. Photo: Zahra Shahtahmasebi/22111118

One in five people treat their own infections instead of seeing a doctor or nurse practitioner to get it checked and get an appropriate antibiotic prescribed if one is needed, says Te Marae Ora chief pharmacist.

According to Andrew Orange, they do this by using leftover antibiotics that they’ve either saved from a different infection, or that have been prescribed for friends or family members.  

This was one interesting finding from the survey of 434 people done by Te Marae Ora (TMO) Pharmacy Staff in October in preparation for World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, which runs from November 18-24 every year.

Orange said: “This isn’t a big surprise, but it isn’t a good habit to get into.”

“Antibiotics lose their effectiveness over time, and the next infection that needs treating might be caused by different bacteria, so your leftover antibiotics might not work or could cause bacteria to become resistant.”

Antibiotic resistance is caused by using the wrong antibiotic, overusing antibiotics, not using big enough doses of antibiotics, or using antibiotics at the wrong time or for the wrong infection.

Orange said: “When antibiotic resistance happens, antibiotics stop working on the bacteria they usually work on, and an infection might get worse in spite of treatment.  Bacteria can change themselves to become resistant to antibiotics, and they can spread that resistance to other bacteria too.  Then those resistant bacteria can spread from person to person, making it very difficult to treat a common infection like a bladder infection.” 

“There’s also a danger that antibiotics prescribed for you won’t suit someone else.  They might cause an allergic reaction, or interact with other medicines that they’re taking.”

Orange said people needed to use antibiotics wisely to keep them working. 

“Your doctor or nurse practitioner is the best person to decide what is causing your infection, if antibiotics are needed at all, and if so, which one suits you best.  It’s always best to check with them, rather than using leftover antibiotics or antibiotics prescribed for someone else’s infection. Any leftovers should really be taken back to the pharmacy to prevent them doing any harm.”