INCREASINGLY many doctors resist providing antibiotics because of growing global fears about antibiotic resistance.
But it seems not all patients are open to the idea of alternative ways of getting well.
According to the National Prescribing Service (NPS), Australians are among the highest users of antibiotics in the world.
The organisation cites figures from 2006 when 22 million prescriptions were dispensed by community pharmacies, and estimates that at least three million of these were wasted on viral infections (antibiotics don't work against viruses).
Scarily, some strains of bacteria have now become so resistant to many of the antibiotics in use that people are again dying of infections.
In Australia, for example, 7000 people die each year from drug-resistant bacteria, such as golden staph infections, according to Dr Brenda Shaw, chief executive of Medicines Australia.
Part of the problem with antibiotic resistance is that the pharmaceutical industry is not developing enough new antibiotic medicines to combat these superbugs, relying instead on drugs that are 30 or 40 years old.
One of the reasons is that the big money is in drugs for cholesterol, or high blood pressure, for example, because these health problems affect so many people on an ongoing basis.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a very pessimistic outlook for the globe unless something is done about the over- and misuse of antibiotics.
Bacteria are mutating and become resistant to antibiotics at a much faster rate than new drugs are being developed, it says.
In fact, last year, WHO issued a new warning about multi-drug resistant bacteria that are going global.
To help combat this, the National Prescribing Service wants the Federal Government to bring together doctors, researchers, industry and community representatives to talk about the growing threat posed by antibiotic resistance.
Service board chair Dr Janette Randall has warned that we may soon be looking at a situation where we run out of effective antibiotics.
Meanwhile, making sure you only take antibiotics for serious, bacterial or fungal infections, is a smart strategy.
Simple hygiene practices, such as washing your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after going to the bathroom, also make good sense.
- Antibiotics only work against infections caused by bacteria, fungi and certain parasites.
- They don't work against any infections caused by viruses which are often behind colds and flu.
- Often, the best thing you can do is let colds and the flu run their course.