Campaign aims to address global threat of antibiotic resistance

Media release

If you get a cold or flu this winter, taking antibiotics won’t fix it.

That’s one of the messages PHARMAC wants Kiwis to take away from its “Keep antibiotics working” campaign, launched this week.

The campaign, spearheaded by social media posts and supported by resources for frontline health professionals, highlights five simple things that will help treat your cold or flu symptoms:

  • rest
  • fluids
  • pain relief
  • decongestants
  • lozenges and gargles.

“We want people to understand that antibiotics aren’t effective against colds and flu,” says PHARMAC’s Deputy Medical Director, Bryan Betty.

“This is because colds and flu are caused by viruses, and the role of antibiotics is to treat infections caused by bacteria.

“If you do take an antibiotic for a cold or flu, not only will it fail to treat the cold or flu. It could also contribute to the growing global health threat of antibiotic resistance.”

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria become ‘used to’ particular antibiotics, so that over time those antibiotics may not work as well, or stop working altogether.

“Antibiotic resistance puts lives at risk, because we need antibiotics to fight and protect against serious infections,” says Dr Betty.

“New Zealand doesn’t currently have the same level of drug-resistant bacteria as some overseas countries. But resistant strains are increasing here, and our antibiotic use is high compared with European countries. So it’s important we act now and do everything we can to keep antibiotics working.”

Dr Betty says the campaign is not about discouraging people from visiting their doctor.

“If you’re worried about your health, you should seek advice from a health professional, such as your GP, nurse or a pharmacist. Just be aware that if you’re diagnosed with a cold or flu, and there’s no sign of a serious infection, you’re unlikely to be prescribed antibiotics.”

The campaign also addresses earaches in young children, which is the most common reason young children get taken to the doctor during winter.

“Earaches can be caused by an infection, but taking antibiotics usually won’t help them get better any faster. But it’s a good idea to take your child to the doctor if they have an earache, to get it checked out.”

Visit the “Keep antibiotics working” campaign site at [site no longer available]

Facts and figures

  • infections caused by multidrug-resistant organisms are already responsible for an estimated 700,000 deaths globally each year
  • a study comparing New Zealand with 29 European countries showed we had the eighth highest consumption of antibiotics (based on 2013 data)
  • drug-resistant strains of bacteria already present in New Zealand include Staphylococcus aureus (more commonly known as the ‘hospital superbug’), Escherichia coli and Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • PHARMAC has a legislative role to promote the responsible use of medicines

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