Facts about antibiotics

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medicines used to treat infections or diseases caused by bacteria (e.g. respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and whooping cough). It’s also used for other infections caused by bacteria, including urinary tract infections, skin infections and infected wounds.

When was it first introduced?

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives since they were introduced in the 1940s and 1950s.

What is the current day issue with antibiotics?

Due to its overuse, many antibiotics are no longer effective against the bacteria they once killed.

How are antibiotics prescribed?

Doctors choose an antibiotic according to the bacteria that usually cause a particular infection. Sometimes they do a test to identify the exact type of bacteria causing your infection and its sensitivity to particular antibiotics.

How does it work?

Antibiotics work by blocking vital processes in bacteria, killing the bacteria, or stopping them from multiplying. This helps the body’s natural immune system to fight the bacterial infection.

How can the public use antibiotics responsibly?

Instead of being the default treatment for a host of mild ailments — particularly coughs, colds, and uncomplicated diarrhoea — antibiotics must be considered life-saving medicines to be used when needed. The full prescription also needs to be taken for the full course of the treatment.

1. Understand when antibiotics should be used. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, and they should never be used for viral infections such as a cold or flu.

2. Follow your doctor’s instructions precisely when you are prescribed an antibiotic. Stopping the treatment early can allow resistant bacteria to survive and spread.

3. Never take antibiotics without a prescription. Taking leftover antibiotics without a prescription can be harmful because they might not be the appropriate choice for your condition or may not be enough to combat the infection.

4. Keep good hygiene to prevent infection. Washing hands before eating and after going to the bathroom or visiting a hospital can go a long way towards preventing infections.

What kind of steps can countries take to reduce antibiotic overuse?

1. Reduce the need for antibiotics through improved water, sanitation, and immunisation.

2. Improve hospital infection control and antibiotic stewardship.

3. Change incentives that encourage antibiotic overuse and misuse to incentives that encourage antibiotic stewardship.

4. Reduce and eventually phase out antibiotic use in agriculture.

5. Educate and inform health professionals, policymakers, and the public on sustainable antibiotic use.

6. Ensure political commitment to meet the threat of antibiotic resistance.

Types of antibiotics

Broad spectrum antibiotics — antibiotics that affect a wide range of bacteria. Example: amoxycillin and gentamicin.

Narrow spectrum antibiotics — antibiotics that affect only a few types of bacteria. Example: penicillin.

Antibiotics, in statistics

Between 2000 and 2010, the total global antibiotic consumption grew by more than 30 per cent, from approximately 50 billion to 70 billion standard units, based on data from 71 countries.

In most countries, about 20 per cent of antibiotics are used in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and 80 per cent are used in the community, either prescribed by healthcare providers or purchased directly by consumers or caregivers without prescription.

In a report, it is said by this year, the demand for antibiotics is expected to reach over US$44.68 billion (RM184.82 billion).

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