RCSI urges people to handle antimicrobials with care this winter

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Clinicians and researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences are urging people to only use antibiotics when prescribed by a health professional and not to demand antibiotics if advised they are not needed.

This is especially critical this winter with a greater number of viral infections in circulation, according to Professor Fidelma Fitzpatrick, Head of Department of Clinical Microbiology, RCSI. Marking this year's World Antimicrobial Awareness Week and European Antibiotics Awareness Day (18 November), RCSI is joining the global campaign led by WHO/Europe to promote the responsible and prudent use of antibiotics to avoid the further emergence and spread of drug-resistant infections.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today. This year's World Antimicrobial Awareness Week aims to increase awareness of global antimicrobial resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, healthcare workers, farmers, animal health professionals and policy makers to avoid the further emergence and spread of drug-resistant infections.

AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to antimicrobials, making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. As a result of AMR, antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines become ineffective and infections become increasingly difficult or impossible to treat, increasing the risk of spread to others.

Professor Fitzpatrick said: "Antimicrobial resistance is rising to dangerously high levels all over the world. The continued use, particularly the inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans, animals and in other situations, is leading to significant increases in the development and spread of AMR. A growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, salmonellosis and gonorrhoea – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective. Antibiotics are also critical to treat patients with sepsis – AMR threatens this.

"This winter, many more of us will contract more viral infections than last year. The critical message is that antibiotics do not cure viral infections. I would really urge people to try to prevent infection by following all of the infection prevention measures we're now familiar with and to check for evidence-based advice on how to manage the typical winter viral illnesses," Professor Fidelma Fitzpatrick concluded.

Prevention and control

Antimicrobial resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, as well as poor infection prevention and control.

Steps can be taken at all levels of society to reduce the impact and limit the spread of resistance.


To prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance, individuals can:

  • Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional.
  • Never demand antibiotics if your health professional says you don't need them.
  • Always follow your health professional's advice when using antibiotics.
  • Never share or use leftover antibiotics.
  • A lot of everyday illnesses like colds, coughs, flu, earache and sore throats don't need an antibiotic. To find out what treatments are available besides antibiotics, visit
  • Prevent infections by regularly washing your hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practicing safer sex and keeping vaccinations up to date.
  • Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals.
  • Ask your pharmacist for advice: other medicines can help relieve your symptoms.

Health professionals

To prevent and control the spread of antimicrobial resistance, health professionals can:

  • Prevent infections by ensuring your hands, instruments and environment are clean.
  • Only prescribe and dispense antibiotics when they are needed, according to current guidelines.
  • Report antibiotic-resistant infections to surveillance teams.
  • Talk to your patients about how to take antibiotics correctly, antimicrobial resistance and the dangers of misuse.
  • Talk to your patients about preventing infections (for example, vaccination, hand washing, safer sex, and covering nose and mouth when sneezing).

Further information on World Antimicrobial Awareness Week can be found on the WHO website.