One of modern medicine's greatest discoveries, antibiotics have added an average of 20 years to each person's lifespan. They are also one of the most prescribed medications in Singapore.
Widespread misuse of antibiotics has been alarming, resulting in Singapore's development of a national antimicrobial resistance plan in 2016. For example, a study which involved 914 adult patients from 24 GP clinics across Singapore found that half of those expecting antibiotics would see another doctor if antibiotics were not prescribed.
Below are 5 important facts about antibiotics that I wish more Singaporeans knew about:
1. Antibiotics don’t cure colds or sore throats!
Antibiotics are medicines that help to fight against ("anti") life-like organisms ("-biotics") such as bacteria. They're also known as "anti-bacterials" and in so saying, they do not cure all illnesses!
Yes, being ill is no fun at all, and for some it's an anxious affair. Dangerous myths about antibiotics are always floating into people’s ears, and can be compelling enough to fuel a belief that antibiotics are the best medicine (scream PANACEAAA!) out there.
Antibiotics work by killing bacteria, or by preventing bacteria from multiplying. Hence, if you have a common cold (commonly caused by viruses, not bacteria), antibiotics will not touch those viruses!
You'll be in better shape quicker if you put aside the thoughts of antibiotics, and went for cold pills you can find in your local pharmacy or at your doctor’s office instead.
2. You can’t buy antibiotics over-the-counter in Singapore
Pharmacists in Singapore WILL NOT sell you ANY antibiotics without a valid prescription from your doctor. We aren't trying to be difficult on purpose by refusing you antibiotics.
However, a trip to the pharmacy may still be worthwhile at the first sign of illness. Since most ailments do not need antibiotics (either because they are "too strong", or simply because they will not solve your problem), the pharmacist can recommend you appropriate medications.
But if you insist and really think you require antibiotics, your best bet is going straight to your doctor for a prescription.
3. Finish the entire course of antibiotics for your own good
As with two sides to a coin, there are two camps on antibiotic use:
- the "finish-the-whole-course" group, and
- the "take-it-till-you’re-feeling-better-then-stop" group.
Notable health agencies, such as FDA in the US and NHS in UK have weighed in and advocate finishing the whole course.
Antibiotics get rid of bacteria in your body and thereby cure the infection. By stopping the course halfway because you feel better, you're depriving your body of antibiotics to fight any remaining bacteria.
Consequently, bacteria can multiply rapidly and you may fall ill again (possibly more seriously the second time round). The bacteria will have been exposed to the antibiotic and this time round, they're clever enough to hide from it. This is what is known as "antibiotic resistance".
In my personal (and very Singaporean) opinion, you’ve already paid for your medication, so why not finish it to avoid the potentially nasty results of not doing so!
Stopping antibiotics prematurely is only advisable when the antibiotic course is deemed inappropriate. However, this is rare, and unlikely under supervised medical care.
4. Antibiotics are not for sharing
All good things should be shared, and antibiotics are good things to people with bacterial infections. DO NOT, however, SHARE YOUR ANTIBIOTICS with others!
Not even with close friends, family, spouse, sister, brother. Just don’t.
When a doctor decides to prescribe you antibiotics, it is very personalised. Antibiotics are a big family of many different compounds with dizzying names. The antibiotic is chosen for you depending on your:
- Infection site (eg. ear, lungs, et cetera)
- Other co-existing medical problems that you may have
- Medication you are currently taking
The duration and frequency (how many times a day you need to take it) are tailored to the diagnosis. Now you see why sharing antibiotics is not sharing joy – it's not only likely to be ineffective, but also unnecessarily delays appropriate treatment! Don’t be a bad friend!
5. Irresponsible use of antibiotics will be catastrophic for cancer patients and organ transplant patients
Antibiotic resistance is bad news for all of us, but it's catastrophic news for people with weaker immune systems, including organ transplant patients and cancer patients.
Hopefully this post helps you understand a little more about antibiotics as medicines. Do share this information with your friends and family so they know not to pass their leftover antibiotics to you!
Sarah is a guest writer at DxD, and a fully registered pharmacist with the Singapore Pharmacy Council. She’s currently working towards completing a further degree in public health. Things that excite her include a good book, a good cup of coffee and being able to help people use medicines safely.