Our Stories

Text version of infographic - Antibiotics: Protecting a precious resource?

Nov. 12, 2018

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are drugs that fight bacterial infections. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for you if you're experiencing infections including strep throat, pneumonia and urinary tract infections. They do not treat viruses including colds, the flu or bronchitis.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Bacteria are adaptable - when we use antibiotics too frequently, bacteria can change so that the same antibiotic used previously isn't as effective at killing it.

What should I care?

Common infections that are treatable now may one day not be if the drugs we currently use aren't effective in the future. We need to reduce the amount of antibiotics we use to ensure they work how they should when we really need them.

Technical term: Antimicrobial stewardship

What is really means: Ensuring patients get the right dose of the right antibiotic for the right length of treatment an only when required.

How we're reducing antibiotic use

1) Allergy skin testing: While penicillin-based antibiotics tend to be more effective than others, they can't be universally used because of allergies. However, research shows taht 90 per cent of those who report a penicillin allergy don't have one - they may have been diagnosed as children and since outgrown them or they may not be as severe as previously believed. We also konw that choosing other second-line antibiotics when patients have been labelled with penicillin allergies can lead to worse outcomes. With this program, trained clinicians do penicillin skin testing to determine whether the patient has a true allergy, so their antibiotic therapy can be optimized.

2) Audit and feedback process: Impatient pharmacists and physicians touch base with the antimicrobial stewardship team on a regular basis to look at which antibiotics have been prescribed to patients. Taking a critical look at who we're using antibiotics means we're constantly confirming they're absolutely needed and stopping patients' prescriptions as soon as they aren't needed, which helps decrease the risks associated with antibiotics.

3) Specialized testing: St. Joseph's is the first site in Ontario to use a specialized blood test called procalcitonin which helps identify bacterial infections. Being more sure of what a patient is dealing with means we can identify with greater certainty when antibiotics, and not another form of treatment, are needed.

4) Selective reporting: Certain antibiotics have higher risk of harm. We have partnered with the microbiology laboratory to make reports that do not release results for these antibiotics, unless necessary, so that physicians are nudged toward choosing lower risk antibiotics.

5) Using oral antibiotics: The antimicrobial stewardship team, doctors and pharmacists are working hard to identify which patients will benefit from switching from intravenous (into the vein) to oral (by mouth) antibiotics. Shorter length of hospital stay, greater patient comfort and less complications are benifits of using oral antibiotics whenever possible.

What you can do to help prevent antibiotic resistance

In hospital:

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about the benefits or harms of antibiotics.

At home:

  • Ask your doctor if there's another way your illness can be treated without antibiotics.
  • Take medication as directed.
  • Return any leftover antibiotics to your pharmacist for proper disposal.