World Antimicrobial Awareness Week: Risks of self-medication and steps to prevent antibiotic resistance

December 31, 2020

Do you reach into your medicine cabinet for leftover medication or go to your favourite online pharmacy when you have a cough or fever? Perhaps, you can easily buy over-the-counter (OTC) medications at the chemist store without a prescription from a doctor - from pain relievers to cough and cold medicines. But that doesn’t mean these products are safe or free of health risks. Without knowing the applicability of the drug, a lot of people now self-medicate to avoid visiting the doctor. Along with paracetamol and pain killers, people have started taking antibiotics without a prescription - unaware of the proper use of antibiotics and the dangers of antibiotic resistance.

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW), celebrated annually from 18-24 November, aims to raise awareness of global antimicrobial resistance. The annual event also encourages best practices among the general public, health workers and policymakers to avoid the further emergence and spread of drug-resistant infections, which have become one of the greatest threats to a global threat. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that growing antimicrobial resistance was as dangerous as the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, worldwide, about 700,000 people die each year due to antimicrobial resistance., adding that figure could rise to 10 million by 2050 without strong action as well as new and better treatments. This article explains why taking over-the-counter antibiotics can be so dangerous although they offer temporary relief to symptoms, and what you can do about it.

Symptoms might ease, not the underlying condition

These over the counter antibiotics might ease the symptoms temporarily and the individual might feel relieved quickly, but the underlying illness will continue to remain, said Dr Srividya S, Consultant - Internal Medicine - Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Yeshwanthpur, Bengaluru.

“For instance, an individual can develop a fever due to various reasons. The fever can be due to an infection in the urinary tract, it could be due to pneumonia or liver disease, typhoid, dengue, sinusitis, leptospirosis or it could be just a simple viral fever. In each case, the treatment and medications are different. This demands a proper evaluation of the cause of the fever by a doctor and then prescribe medicines accordingly. The condition is such that today even strong dosage of antibiotics can be purchased over-the-counter without a doctor’s prescription,” said Dr Srividya.

Hence, the focus should be on treating the disease and not just the symptoms. Inappropriate usage of drugs and self-medication can be very harmful.

Resistance to antibiotics - A major threat

One of the most known dangers of resorting to unprescribed antibiotics is the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. This could limit the ability to treat even a mild infection.

“Bacteria that are affecting an individual should be treated entirely, else it will develop resistance to the antibiotics you use. The bacteria mutate and become invulnerable to the antibiotics used to treat infections they cause. People should realise that taking antibiotics over-the-counter and misuse of antibiotics without prescription accelerates the development of drug-resistant bacteria often addressed as superbugs. Antibiotic resistance can lead to higher medical costs, it may result in a prolonged hospital stay and can increase mortality also,” he added.

What you can do to control the spread of antibiotic resistance

This global problem has to be fought together by increasing the awareness of the dangers caused due to the misuse of over-the-counter drugs and self-medication.

Here are some steps you can take to help prevent antibiotic resistance:

  • Stop the practice of resorting to over the counter antibiotics.
  • Use antibiotics only when your doctor prescribes it.
  • Your doctor knows if you need antibiotics. If he says you don’t need them, never demand it.
  • Never use leftover antibiotics.
  • Never share the antibiotics prescribed to you with your family or friends. The one which works for you may not work for others or become dangerous to them.
  • Follow your doctor’s advice when using antibiotics.
  • Even if you feel well after having antibiotics for one or two days, complete the full course as prescribed by the physician.

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