Friday, 18 November 2011

Coughs, Colds and Antibiotics

This is very much written from a patient and parent perspective. I have linked to a number of sources if you have specific queries, and ever, do not fail to contact your GP with any health concerns. 

I have been meaning to do a post about antibiotics and the problems of antibiotic resistance for quite some time. I have recently discovered SepsisUK on Twitter and discovered through their tweets that today is European Antibiotic Awareness Day .

See this picture? My little boy was just a few days old. Under that fragile skin his body is having the fight of its life. Sepsis. Joseph had numerous episodes of this evil condition. The pre eclampsia tried to kill him, but failed, and then sepsis took hold. I personally know of a few babies who have died due to sepsis.

Antibiotics are vital in the war against sepsis. Joseph had a range of antibiotics. One of the problems doctors face with sepsis is that to find out the exact bacteria causing the problem, blood cultures have to be taken, and it can take several days for the cultures to grow and the exact bacteria to be identified, so in the mean time they have to do a "scattergun" approach and fire the big boys at whatever is causing it. Joseph worked through an impressive array of antibiotics, and thankfully the sepsis, each time, was arrested, and I now have a fit and healthy young man.

I first became aware of the problem of microbial resistance at the age of 15. This website explains more in much better detail than I can. When I was a child and teenager I was quite poorly. I had asthma and recurrent infections. I had quite a bit of time off school, and could get scarily ill very quickly. Asthma management has come a long way since then, but back in the seventies and eighties I was on antibiotics a lot. I recall at 15 my GP suggesting prophylactic antibiotics in winter. I was unsure of whether this was right.

I attended an asthma management course run by the Australian equivalent of Asthma UK, the Asthma Foundation, and through this I learnt the difference between virus and bacteria, and that most of my illnesses were most likely viral, so therefore the antibiotics I had been taken were useless.

There is a major problem with taking antibiotics if they are not needed. Microbes can become resistant. So if we overuse antibiotics (anti-microbials), these microbes mutate and then are resistant to the drugs that are designed to kill them. This can cause a huge problem, the antibiotics we rely on can become useless and we then see the rise of so-called superbugs, that are difficult to treat as they keep mutating.

The vast majority of coughs and colds are viral. Viruses are not killed by antibiotics, you can't treat flu with antibiotics. There are no cure for viruses. I think its important when our children, or ourselves, are ill that we go to the doctor but we have to be aware, and willing to accept that sometimes the only things that can be done are symptom management. It's not that the doctor is uncaring or useless, its that viruses have no cure.

The only treatment for viruses is time, and along with this symptom management. Antibiotics are useless, and can cause more problems than you bargained for.

Next time you go to the doctor, consider what you want out of the appointment, and make yourself antibiotic aware. If you are prescribed antibiotics it is absolutely essential you take the whole course, don't stop once you start feeling better.

I will do a further post on sepsis and the work Sepsis UK are doing, but in the meant time, please read and sign this petition.

2 comments:

  1. And that goes for if your animals are prescribed a course as well including topical medication it is so important to finish a course! As usual well written and informative when are you writing a book?!! X

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