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Keep taking the tablets? When we are feeling poorly it's tempting to rush to the doctor and demand some pills to make it better, but Antibiotic Awareness Week could make you think twice.

Q What are antibiotics? A Antibiotics are important medicines used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics do not work against infections caused by viruses. All colds, and most coughs and sore throats are caused by viruses, and generally these will get better on their own. Taking antibiotics will not help you to recover from these illnesses.

Q What is antibiotic resistance? A Bacteria can adapt and find ways to survive the effects of an antibiotic. They become 'antibiotic resistant', meaning that the antibiotic no longer works. The more often we use an antibiotic, the more likely it is that bacteria will become resistant to it.

Some bacteria that cause infections in hospitals, such as MRSA, are resistant to several antibiotics.

Q Why can't other antibiotics be used to treat resistant bacteria? A They can, but they may not be as effective and may have more side effects. Eventually the bacteria will become resistant to them, and we may not always be able to find new antibiotics to replace them. In recent years fewer new antibiotics have been discovered.

Q How can antibiotic resistance be avoided? A By using antibiotics less often, we can slow down the development of resistance. It's not possible to stop it completely but slowing it down stops resistance spreading and buys some time to develop new types of antibiotics.

Q What can I do about antibiotic resistance? A You can use antibiotics only when it's appropriate to do so. When they are prescribed, the complete course should be taken in order to get rid of the bacteria completely. If the course isn't completed, some bacteria may be left, and they may develop resistance.

Q So when will I be prescribed antibiotics? A When it's appropriate. Your doctor will only prescribe antibiotics when you need them, for example for a kidney or chest infection. Antibiotics may be life-saving for serious infections such as meningitis. By not using them unnecessarily, they're more likely to work when we do need them.

Q Is antibiotic resistance the only reason my doctor will not prescribe me antibiotics? A No. Although it will be a reason, your doctor will not prescribe antibiotics for viral infections as these do not respond for antibiotics. In addition, many antibiotics have side effects and if your infection appears to be improving on its own, your doctor may decide not to prescribe antibiotics that may cause side effects. Side effects of taking antibiotics can include rashes, diarrhoea and thrush.

Q So if I can't have antibiotics, how should I treat my cold? A The best way to treat most colds, coughs or sore throats is to drink plenty of fluids and to rest. Colds can last about two weeks and may end with a cough and bringing up phlegm.

There are many over the counter remedies to ease the symptoms - paracetamol, for example. Ask your pharmacist for advice. If the cold lasts more than three weeks, or you become breathless or have chest pains, or already have a chest complaint, see your doctor.

Q What about my children? They are always getting coughs and colds. A It's very common for children to get coughs and colds, especially when they go to school and mix with others. Ask your pharmacist for advice. If the symptoms persist and you are concerned, see your doctor or call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47 but you shouldn't expect to be prescribed antibiotics for a cold or cough.

Q How do I know if my child is seriously ill? A Warning signs of a more serious illness that may require medical attention include: | Drowsiness that persists even after taking paracetamol or ibuprofen; | Breathing problems such as rapid breathing or difficulty to breathe; | Cold or discoloured hands or feet with a warm body; | Severe arm or leg pain with no obvious cause; | Unusual skin colour - for example if the child has turned blue or very pale; | A high temperature of more than 40C that does not come down after taking normal painkillers; | A child who is not eating or appears to be dehydrated.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 14, 2012
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