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  • Bleak warning after setback in medication fight

    Author: AAP

Patients have been warned to stop stockpiling antibiotics and think twice about prescriptions for minor illnesses with concerns one of the most serious health challenges is getting worse.

Dangerous bacteria that cause golden staph infections, gastro and gonorrhoea are becoming increasingly resistant to common drugs, according to a new report from the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care released on Thursday.

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In serious cases when antibiotics don't work patients have no other treatment options.

Prescription rates for the drugs fell 25 per cent at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic but there was a concerning 10 per cent uptick in prescriptions in 2022, the report showed.

It found Australia has one of highest consumption levels of antibiotics in the developed world, as one in three people has at least one drug dispensed last year.

It's got health experts worried and calling for urgent action to curb the trend before it's too late.

Senior medical adviser to the commission, Professor John Turnidge said Australia still has an opportunity to tackle what he described as one of the most serious health challenges of our time.

He said doctors, other healthcare workers and patients all have a role to play in the nation becoming "smarter" about prescribing the medications.

"Let's all think twice before automatically prescribing and using antibiotics - or having them 'just in case'," Prof Turnidge said.

"If we don't, in the future we may not be able to perform medical procedures such as organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management and major surgery.

"That is a bleak future that none of us wish to contemplate."

The World Health Organisation estimates antimicrobial resistance could result in up to 10 million deaths by 2050.

A study published in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet in 2022 found it already contributes to hundreds of deaths in Australia every year.

Infectious diseases expert and commission adviser, Professor Peter Collignon reminded patients there is no way antibiotics can help treat viruses like colds or flu and about five per cent of people suffer adverse effects from the drugs.

"For a serious infection such as meningitis, pneumonia or sepsis, you will need antibiotics to stay alive and your doctor will help you navigate this," Prof Collignon said.

"Yet for many people dealing with non-serious illnesses, this is not the case."

Prof Turnidge also said there was emerging evidence antimicrobial use may contribute to long-term chronic illness later in life.

"Antibiotics can save your life, so we should preserve them to treat life-threatening conditions, but we must not forget that they can also cause significant harm."

The fall in usage over 2020 and 2021 is attributed to new regulations and COVID distancing rules that led to a drop in respiratory infections.

The report recommended that community health and aged care workers follow guidelines on when it's appropriate to prescribe antibiotics for urinary tract infections, skin infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other respiratory infections.

It said hospitals needed to pay greater attention to how the drugs are used to prevent infections in surgical patients, manage bugs already known to be resistant and watch out for antifungal resistance.


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