Medical professionals have advised against overuse of antibiotics, with one practitioner warning life-saving treatments could become “ineffective”, returning humans to an era where infections are untreatable.
Australians die every day from infections due to treatment-resistant bacteria and these types of infections could become increasingly deadly if we don’t tone down antibiotic prescriptions, Society of Hospital Pharmacists president Professor Michael Dooley said.
He said there could be serious consequences if Australian doctors fail to “minimise antibiotic use to when it is most effective”.
“The real risk everyone is worried about is that our antibiotics don’t work and we go from an era where we have some degree of control over bugs and how we treat it … [to becoming] ineffective,” Prof Dooley told The New Daily.
“[Infections] become a massive problem when you have a cut, when you have a particular infection, when you are having surgery.
“With resistant bugs around … those infections that have been uncomplicated in the past can become life-threatening.”
Antibiotics were part of an exhaustive list of treatments, tests and procedures a coalition of health professionals highlighted as needing review in a campaign launched on Wednesday.
Treatment for ailments like allergies, back pain and ear infections were criticised in the 61 recommendations in the Choosing Wisely Australia initiative, which questioned if “more is always better” when it came to health treatment.
Not only were there health implications, but futile treatment could also lead to unnecessary strain on the public purse – preventative treatment of disease in frail, elderly patients, with a limited life expectancy, cost the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) between $240 million and $450 million each year.
Simple approach to common conditions
Back pain or ear infections were some of the common ailments at risk of inappropriate treatment, according to the report.
Lower back pain is the third most common reason Australians are heading to the GP, but it was frequently over-diagnosed, according to the Australian Physiotherapy Association.
Imaging was requested to “no advantage” and with “potential harms” when the pain was acute, non-specific and with no serious indicators.
Regardless of the pain, doctors also recommended against routine antibiotics for ear infections in children aged two to 12.
“The small benefits of antibiotic use must be weighed up against the risk and potential side-effects, such as rash and diarrhoea, and [that] antibiotics do not reduce pain at 24 hours,” Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ Dr Frank Jones told the ABC.
‘We are seeing more and more resistance’
Health Minister Sussan Ley announced an overhaul of antibiotic prescription in June 2015, to curb their use in Australia – one of the highest rates in the developed world.
But Prof Dooley said they were already seeing increased bacterial resistance in hospitals.
“We are seeing more and more resistance,” he said.
“Some aren’t as effective in the past and [infections] that were difficult to treat are becoming more and more difficult to treat – we are seeing this on a daily basis.”
But there were ways to make sure you were getting the correct treatment.
“The main thing is to ask the experts questions,” Prof Dooley said, “if they need an antibiotic or not … and how long should they be on it.”