European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) takes place annually on 18 November 2012. 

Antibiotics are important medicines that kill bacteria and can save lives. Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness due to their overuse and at times inappropriate use as bacteria develop resistance to them.  This means that antibiotics may no longer work in the future.  

Taking antibiotics unnecessarily or not following the dosage instructions correctly can cause bacteria to become resistant.

  • Where an antibiotic is prescribed, this  should be started within 24 hours.  The care home may need to use a local pharmacy to ensure this happens.
  • The reason for prescribing an antibiotic should be documented clearly in patient notes.
  • Completing the course as prescribed - missing doses may compromise the effectiveness of the antibiotic and/or facilitate the emergence of resistant organisms.
  • Antibiotics doses should be spaced evenly throughout the “awake” day.  
  • Recording of administration of antibiotics should be accurate.  If there are extra doses for example 21 capsules received but 23 administered, this should trigger concerns.
  • We cannot stop resistance but we can slow it down by using antibiotics wisely. Recent problems with healthcare associated infections (HAI) such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile infection can also be tackled by improved use of antibiotics.

Residents in care homes for older people can develop viral infections.  Coughs, colds and sore throats are likely caused by virus not bacteria.  The best way to recover from these viral illnesses is to ensure plenty of rest, if appropriate take regular paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce pain and fever, drink plenty of fluids and ask your local pharmacist if you need advice.  

The most common bacterial infections in care homes for older people are urinary tract infections, respiratory tract infections and skin and soft tissue infections.   Using antibiotics appropriately (i.e. the right antibiotic for the bacteria, giving the correct antibiotic at the correct prescribed time and in the correct prescribed dosage) is particularly important in this population as they are vulnerable to resistant infections and HAIs. 

Care homes can take these actions to help to improve care and reduce antibiotic resistance and the development of HAIs. 

Increasing care staff and public awareness of how to use antibiotics safely and effectively can reduce unnecessary use and ensure that when antibiotics are needed they are prescribed and administered correctly.  This will help tackle resistance.