Taking antibiotics favours bacteria's resistance to them. Antibiotics are very useful medicines. To maintain their effectiveness, they have to be used correctly and only when necessary. Antibiotics are not effective against flu, bronchitis or colds.

How are infections that are caused by a resistant bacterium treated?

Prevention is the best approach. 

An infection caused by a bacterium that is resistant to antibiotics is difficult to cure. It exposes the patient to the risk of complications that prolong the duration of the illness and can lead to death.

Because the antibiotic that is normally used is no longer effective, stronger, more expensive antibiotics have to be used, which require more care and can cause severe side effects. 

Research is currently being carried out to find alternatives to antibiotic treatments within the context of infections linked to resistant bacteria. Infections caused by the resistant bacteria Clostridium difficile can now be treated using a faecal matter transplantation technique.

Antibiotic treatment in general

It is very important to stick to the antibiotic treatment prescribed by your doctor (duration and dosage) and to discuss it with him/her to understand it better.

In fact, when a doctor prescribes antibiotics, he defines a strategy according to the symptoms, medical history, the profile at risk, the bacterium and according to official recommendations. 

There are first-line and second-line antibiotics and those prescribed as a last resort when the first-line antibiotics are no longer effective.

The use of last resort antibiotics must be avoided, because if bacteria become resistant to that, no other treatment will work.

Recommendations concerning antibiotic treatments are regularly updated (BAPCOC, Belgian Antibiotic Policy Coordination Committee)

For example, the bacterium that causes gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is one that is starting to become resistant. The recommendation is now that gonorrhoea should be treated with a single dose of antibiotics.

When to take antibiotics and when not to

Even when there is a bacterial infection, the doctor may decide not to prescribe antibiotics. He/she may then give you a “non-prescription of antibiotics”: this is a document that explains why the doctor has not prescribed antibiotics.  

Certain bacterial infections can clear up spontaneously if they are not affecting an at-risk individual and they are not chronic. A healthy person's immune system is sufficiently resistant to fight the infection.

The doctor may also decide to give you a delayed prescription, an antibiotic prescription that is only valid if the symptoms of the infection worsen. This strategy for prescribing antibiotics has proven its effectiveness particularly in certain respiratory infections in adults and children. Parents are generally more attentive to and more aware of the need to use antibiotics responsibly.

Sciensano is the reference body in Belgium for the surveillance of antimicrobial resistance. Our activities include surveillance and surveys, as well as antimicrobial susceptibility testing in bacterial and fungal isolates originating from humans, animals and the environment (e.g. foodstuffs). 

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