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Public reminded antibiotics may do more harm than good against seasonal viruses

A man wearing a mask and sat at a desk

As we approach the winter, people are being reminded that antibiotics may not be the answer in combatting seasonal illnesses.

During the colder months it’s usually common for viral infections, such as colds, coughs and sore throats, to circulate.

Some people may consider turning to their GP for antibiotics to try and alleviate some of their symptoms.

However, antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections and not viral infections. This is because antibiotics can’t kill off viruses.

Pictured: Dr Keith Hawkins.

Taking antibiotics can even make some people feel worse due to the side effects they may come with.

There is also an added risk of antimicrobial resistance, where bugs are exposed to antibiotics and develop a way of overcoming their actions so they will no longer work.

This advice coincides with World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (18th to 24th November).

It is a global campaign aimed at improving awareness of the risks of resistance, with this year’s theme being “preventing antimicrobial resistance together”.

Dr Keith Hawkins, a GP at Ty’r Felin Surgery in Gorseinon, said: “If you take antibiotics for a viral illness, they will not do anything to help.

“Sometimes you can take antibiotics and they can make you poorly because there’s a risk of side effects.

“If you need those antibiotics again in a short space of time, perhaps in a couple of months, they are much less likely to work for you.

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“This is because the bugs can become resistant and find ways of overcoming their actions so they won’t work.

“We want people to have antibiotics if they are needed but if we prescribe them at unnecessary times, it may create problems further down the line.”

Prescribers in Swansea Bay are working hard to achieve their aim to prescribe targeted antibiotics, meaning people will only receive the right kind to target their specific infection at the right time.

Many of the viral infections usually do get better by themselves over time.

But if symptoms persist or additional support is needed, community pharmacies can offer expert advice or make referrals to a GP if appropriate.

Dr Hawkins added: “In the winter we see a higher proportion of respiratory viral illnesses.

“Most of the time they get better within a few days and improve with self-management at home, such as taking painkillers or other over-the-counter medication.

“If you’ve had a sore throat, cough or a cold and it hasn’t got better at home, you should consider your next port of call to be your community pharmacist.

“They are there to give you expert advice and will refer you to a GP if needed.

“These are instances where we want to utilise community pharmacies so patients who are perhaps more ill can see their GP.

“We don’t want there to be any delay in people coming to their GP with a serious illness. We would still like them to contact their GP straight away.”

As well as being able to offer expert advice, community pharmacies also provide the Common Ailments Service which offers free advice and treatment, if needed, for a number of everyday conditions.

Patients can have a private consultation with a pharmacist, usually without the need for an appointment.

All you need to do is register with your local community pharmacy to be able to use the service.

Similarly, a number of community pharmacies also offer a sore throat test and treat service, which is free and doesn’t require an appointment.

If necessary, patients may be offered a while-you-wait throat swab test to determine if their sore throat is being caused by a bacterial or viral infection.

A woman wearing scrubs standing outside a hospital

“The community pharmacies do a lot of work in conjunction with GPs,” Dr Hawkins said.

“People may not have thought of going to a pharmacist for their ailments but community pharmacies can provide a lot of assistance.

“There are lots of different services they provide so we want people to consider if their pharmacy can help them before contacting their GP.

“Of course if the person has worrying symptoms, we would still urge them to contact their GP.”

Bethan Thomas (pictured), one of Swansea Bay’s antimicrobial pharmacists, said: “World Antimicrobial Awareness Week aims to improve the awareness of antimicrobial resistance and highlights the importance of prescribing antibiotics only when needed.

“Antibiotics are used to treat infections that are caused by bacteria and do not work against viruses.

“Taking antibiotics when you do not need to can cause unnecessary side effects and increases the risk of antimicrobial resistance.”

Follow this link to access information and guidance around the natural duration of respiratory illnesses.

Follow this link to access advice around managing your illness here.

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