People in West Leicestershire are being urged to sign up to become an Antibiotic Guardians by health leaders at NHS West Leicestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) ahead of European Antibiotics Awareness Day on 18 November.
It is estimated that, unless we halt the growing resistance which our bodies are developing to antibiotics, by 2050 10 million deaths per year worldwide will be attributed to antibiotic resistance, which is mainly caused by inappropriate use and overuse. That is 1.8 million more than will be attributed to cancer  and an increase of over 14 times the current figure of 700,000 deaths per year.
Between April 2014 and March 2015 almost 700,000 antibiotic prescriptions were issued by GPs in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Between April and August 2015 this year there have already been almost 250,000 prescriptions with the busy winter period still to come. Antibiotics are important medicines for treating infections caused by bacteria. However, resistance to antibiotics is rapidly increasing, with some countries seeing drug resistance rates more than double in the past five years. Research has shown that over use of antibiotics can leave people susceptible to other infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile that are harder to treat.
Resistance is also caused when antibiotics are not taken for the fully prescribed course. Taking only a partial course of antibiotics means that bacteria will be exposed to the antibiotic but are not given a strong enough course to kill them, resulting in the bacteria surviving and replicating. Consequently, future strains may be more likely to mutate and develop resistance. A survey found that a quarter of people who are prescribed antibiotics do not finish the prescribed course. Skipping doses, not taking the doses at correct intervals, saving some for later and sharing antibiotics with others also increase the risk of antibiotic resistance developing.
Antibiotics do not cure viral infections such as colds and flu. Most sore throats, coughs and earaches are also viral and antibiotics will not work in these cases either. Antibiotics could actually make problems worse if they are not needed, causing side effects such as rashes, thrush, stomach pains, diarrhoea and reactions to sunlight, to name but a few *. In cases of viral infections, people are being urged to visit their community pharmacist for advice on symptom relief and self-care.
Professor Mayur Lakhani, a GP in Sileby and Chair of NHS West Leicestershire CCG, said: “Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest health threats facing us today. Unless we start using antibiotics appropriately, routine procedures such as setting broken bones, basic operations and having chemotherapy will become increasingly dangerous. So, we are asking everyone in West Leicestershire to become Antibiotic Guardians and to make a pledge as to how they will use these vital medicines better.
“If your doctor prescribes you a course of antibiotics, it’s important to take it, and to take the full course prescribed. However, most common illnesses, such as coughs, colds, sore throats and stomach upsets, will get better by themselves without the need for antibiotics. If we look after antibiotics now, and make sure we only use them when we really need to, then they will continue to work. I’ve already signed up to be an Antibiotic Guardian, and I’m urging the people of West Leicestershire to do the same, and protect them for future generations.”
Everyone can become an Antibiotic Guardian by visiting www.antibioticguardian.com and choosing a simple pledge about how they will make better use of antibiotics.
 Statistic taken from “Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a Crisis for the Health and Wealth of Nations”. UK Prime Minister, The Rt Hon David Cameron MP, commissioned Jim O’Neill in July 2014 to chair this review on antimicrobial resistance.
 NHSBSA Prescription Services ePACT data.
* NHS Choices http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/ARC/Pages/AboutARC.aspx