Fri | Jun 5, 2020

Antibiotics abuse alert!

Published:Wednesday | November 28, 2018 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis
Dr Alison Nicholson in the Department of Microbiology at the University of the West Indies.

As Jamaican health officials continue the fight to reduce antibiotics abuse, there are fears that some local doctors are giving in to their patients who beg for this medication even when they don't need it.

Antibiotics abuse is a worldwide problem and this has caused more and more bacteria to become resistant to the medication that could once kill them.

With reports of the abuse of antibiotics increasing locally, the concern is that the island could soon be facing a crisis of antibiotic-resistance illnesses.

Head of microbiology at the University of the West Indies, Dr Alison Nicholson, has warned that when persons take antibiotics they don't need, this speeds up antibiotic resistance and makes some infections harder to treat.

"We did a study, and we went through the entire island, and we found out, for example, that on the public side persons will beg doctors for antibiotics, will squeeze their arms for antibiotics. It's a smaller percentage of the public that admitted to begging doctors, but out of that group a significant number will get the doctors to give it to them," said Nicholson.

"Eighty-three per cent of persons said that if they went to the doctor and asked for antibiotic and they didn't get it, they would go to another doctor to get it, so this is insisting on getting antibiotics. But 93 per cent of them said if the doctor explained to them why they didn't need the antibiotics they wouldn't go to another doctor," added Nicholson.

She told The Sunday Gleaner that she has seen where patients have pressured their doctors into writing prescriptions, which was not necessary because if they needed antibiotics it would have been prescribed.

According to Nicholson, doctors also need to share the responsibility by educating patients on the proper use of antibiotics.

"We say the same things to doctors, do not prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily. Yes, we know the patients come in and they are not moving until you write the prescription, but it's not only the patients' fault, sometimes the doctors also need to hold back on the antibiotics if they don't need it," said Nicholson.




She warned that the overuse and misuse of antibiotics put everyone at risk, as antibiotic resistance can affect people of all ages.

"We want to preserve it so that it saves lives. We don't want you to be using antibiotics because you have a cold and you feel like you want antibiotics. There are some things you don't need antibiotics for. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, so if you have body pains and you are sniffling, you probably have a virus, and so if your doctor examines you and says you don't need antibiotics, let it be.

"Antibiotics are life saving and we need to keep them life saving, we can't water them down," said Nicholson as she urged Jamaican to always seek the advice of a healthcare professional before taking antibiotics.

"Most companies don't think that making antibiotics is a viable option at this point. It's expensive to bring a new antibiotic to the market. It takes about 10 years for this development, and when companies do that people overuse the antibiotic and the bugs become resistant, so before they can make back their money the drug has no use," said Nicholson.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against the abuse of antibiotics and recently issued guidelines to help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance.

To prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance, individuals can:

- Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional.

- Never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don't need them.

- Always follow your health worker's advice when using antibiotics.

- Never share or use leftover antibiotics.

- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practising safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date.

- Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals.