European Antibiotic Awareness Day 18th November 2020


Every day antibiotic resistance is making people suffer more and die younger than they need to. We know that every year many people in Europe die earlier from antibiotic resistance infection (there is no exact number for this for any country in Europe including Ireland). Taking antibiotics that are not needed runs the risk of side effects with no benefit. It also builds up antibiotic resistance for now and for the future. Antibiotic resistance is one of the World Health Organization’s top risks to the long term protection of our health and Ireland has a national plan to play its part in reducing resistance.

Antibiotics were the wonder drugs of the last century; the magic bullets. We got better at making antibiotics in bulk and doing it cheaply. For more than 50 years most countries in the world having been using vast amounts of antibiotics in people, in animals and in forestry. Nearly every time we kill bugs with antibiotics most of them die but a tiny few survive and multiply. This is because they happen to have a genetic trick up their sleeve that blocks the antibiotic. Years of using lots of antibiotics around the world have left us with a world where those antibiotic resistant superbug numbers are increasing in people, in animals and the environment (water and soil).

Over all those years of overusing antibiotics people have started to live longer because of better living conditions. We have also got much better at helping people with diseases that were rapidly fatal to live some good quality extra years. The price of that progress is more people vulnerable to infection and more people who need high tech healthcare. A lot of the progress in treatment depends on protecting vulnerable people from infection during their treatment using antibiotics. We now risk losing a lot of the progress because our antibiotics do not work so well. There are many superbugs in existence (e.g. MRSA, VRE, ESBL and CPE) that are resistant to many of the antibiotics we have. There is also very little progress in the development of new antibiotics. It is also an important part of this year’s campaign that we highlight that antibiotics do not work to treat viruses including COVID-19.

  • Antibiotics can cause more harm than good if taken unnecessarily.
  • COVID-19, influenza, colds are viral infections – antibiotics don't work for virus infection
  • If you do need antibiotics take them as prescribed by the doctor.
  • Take care of yourself and learn to treat common illnesses that do not require antibiotics use

For prescribers; prescribe antibiotics as set out on or on hospital guidelines and be aware of the red/green antibiotic prescribing programme.

Prescribers know the challenge of deciding if an antibiotic is needed or not and of picking the right antibiotics for the right duration when an antibiotic is needed. Good guidelines on your phone or on the web make it a lot easier to do that. Check out or familiarise yourself with your hospital guidelines if you are in acute services. Every one of us who prescribes, dispenses, administers or uses antibiotics has a part to play in making antibiotics safer for patients today and more sustainable for tomorrow.