Get wise about antibiotic use, says mum
Mum of three and microbiologist Juliet Elvy understands how antibiotics are a precious resource, and she can see first-hand how resistance develops in bacteria grown in the laboratory.
As Nelson Marlborough Health’s clinical pathologist, Elvy said that while New Zealand was lucky not to have widespread resistance to antibiotics, it was important for people not to be complacent.
In October, a family of bacteria resistant to nearly all antibiotics, carbapenem-producing enterobacteriaceae (CPE), was found in five people living in the Wellington region.
‘‘Antibiotics are not a harmless drug, and they should only be used when they are really needed,’’ Elvy said.
Antibiotics could not be used to treat viral infections like colds and flu, she said.
As a mum, Elvy said, she felt passionate about not treating kids with antibiotics unnecessarily. Ailments like ear infections and sore throats would clear up on their own without the use of an antibiotic.
‘‘A small proportion will be bacterial, and there will still be some kids who need antibiotics, and it is really important and potentially lifesaving to get those antibiotics when you need them.’’
Recent research from the University of Auckland found that the level of antibiotic consumption by New Zealanders was high compared with other countries. The report said the amount of antibiotics used per head of population here was about three times what it was in Norway or Denmark.
Elvy said the reasons behind our high rate of antibiotic usage were complex and not yet fully understood.
It was possible that GPs felt pressure to prescribe antibiotics when they didn’t need to, particularly for viral infections, she said.
‘‘There are other things people can do to make themselves feel better – taking rest and fluids and simple painkillers rather than feeling like they should be taking an antibiotic.’’
GPs should talk to their patients about why they would not prescribe an antibiotic and what else they could do to keep themselves healthy, she said.
Elvy said there was also increasing evidence about the long-term effects of antibiotic usage, especially in young children.
‘‘There is quite a lot of evidence that shows if you are exposed to too many antibiotics early in life you have an increased risk of things like diabetes and obesity.’’
Antibiotic Awareness Week, held from November 12-18, is a World Health Organisation initiative to increase global awareness of antibiotic resistance.
Nelson Marlborough Health clinical pathologist Juliet Elvy is an antibiotic expert and mother of, from left, Noah, 7, Poppy, 3, and Florrie, 9. She avoids giving her kids antibiotics unless they are really needed.