Antibiotic overuse blamed for rise of the superbug

Incorrect use of infection-fighting drugs is alarming the medical world

Are antibiotics really the answer?

If your throat’s sore, the usual self-diagnosis is that you’re getting a cold.

You may soldier on for a few days then head off to the doctor expecting – indeed, hoping – that you will be prescribed an antibiotic which will have you feeling better within hours.

But antibiotics are not a “cure all”. They can help fight bacterial infections, but they’re no good against viruses, so there’s every chance they won’t help your sore throat.

Antibiotics work by killing or disabling bacteria and most sore throats are caused by a virus.

Ninety per cent of bronchitis episodes are caused by a virus so an antibiotic is largely useless. Most sinusitis issues are caused by a virus, hence antibiotics won’t work. However, if your sinusitis returns or lasts more than a week or two, it’s possible an antibiotic will help.

Pneumonia, on the other hand, can be bacterial, so antibiotics are often necessary.

The over-use of antibiotics aids viruses to mutate and become resistant to the drugs. To address this, new ones have to be developed, which is so slow and costly that it rarely eventuates       .

In a 2016 study titled “First Australian Report on Antimicrobial Use and Resistance in Human Health”, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care said Australia had higher rates of antibiotic use than many countries.

The report found: “On any given day in 2014, around 38 per cent of patients in Australian hospitals were receiving antimicrobial therapy. Around 23 per cent of these prescriptions were considered inappropriate, and around 24 per cent were noncompliant with guidelines.

“Prescriptions for surgical prophylaxis are a significant concern – this indication is the most common reason for prescribing antimicrobials in hospitals (13.1 per cent of all prescriptions), but also has the highest proportion of inappropriate use (40.2 per cent of prescriptions were deemed to be inappropriate).

“Antimicrobial prescribing is high in the community, with 46 per cent of Australians being dispensed at least one antimicrobial in 2014. High volumes of antimicrobials are prescribed unnecessarily for upper respiratory tract infections.”

Overseas studies show the problem also exists in the UK, the US and India. In the latter country, the prescription of millions of unapproved antibiotic cocktails has been slammed by UK health experts as undermining global efforts to control drug resistance. 

Regular use of antibiotics has been linked to an increased chance of liver damage, allergic reactions, chronic fatigue and a collapse of the body’s natural immune systems.

And then there is the rise of the “super bugs” – the bugs that are antibiotic resistant and have no known cure. Thousands of people worldwide are dying each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

If you are suffering any common infections – cold, flu, sore throat, a cough, ear infection, sinus infection or gastro issue – there’s a chance that an antibiotic won’t help.

You owe it to yourself to ask the right questions when it comes to any prescribed treatment. If an antibiotic is offered by your doctor, ask if it will really make a difference.

Ask if there might be an alternative treatment, such as a herbal supplement.

Ask whether rest and a bowl of chicken soup will be as beneficial in your recovery as any tablet because, hey, your grandparents probably swore by it.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    16th Feb 2018
    The effects of not prescribing antibiotics this last year due to all the hype as caused incredible secondary infections and loss of work days.
    I always thought doctors had a high IQ. Know your patient!
    16th Feb 2018
    Its the doctors call on this.

    I know that the green mucus that comes out the nose is not a virus, Its pseudomonas bacteria and this bacteria can get down into the lungs and cause pneumonia, again the doctors call, about who come down with chronic lung infections.

    In a lot of cases antibiotics are not necessary and we need to use less of them, but I wouldn't like to see it become trendy not to use them.
    17th Feb 2018
    Antibiotics should always be the last resort as so many bacteria have now become resistant due to unnecessary abuse. The biggest culprits are use in farming and antibacterial handwash and cleaners, washed down the drain to mix with other bacteria. Each bacteria that survives will become stronger and more resistant. A bacteria found a few years ago mutates every 4 hours which means it can't be stopped. Loss of work days is trivial compared to unstoppable plague.
    25th Feb 2018
    In the last 90 years since the identification of penicillin, horrendous diseases such as tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, malaria and urinary tract infections have been controlled or in some cases eradicated by medical science. But increasingly, people will be dying from common bacterial infections. By 2050, according to a UK government report, antibiotic resistant "superbugs" could kill ten million people a year, more than currently die of cancer. The World Health Organisation calls this a "global health security threat".

    This is largely because more antibiotics are consumed by farmed animals than by humans, partly to keep them from dying in their cramped, faeces-filled cages, crates, and sheds, but also because for the last 60 years the meat industries have been using antibiotics as growth promoters. Diseases that had become rare are now evolving new forms, transmissible to humans, in these horrific conditions. As long as humans eat meat, this threat will intensify. So will the rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other life-threatening diseases as the cholesterol and saturated fat in meat and other animal-based foods increases the risk of developing these ailments.

    So the solution does not involve chicken soup! The healthiest option is to choose tasty vegan foods, which are cholesterol-free, generally low in fat and calories, and which don’t naturally harbour harmful bacteria. For more information and free vegan recipes, you can go to

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