Dr. Andrew Morris
Dr. Andrew Morris, Director, Antimicrobial Stewardship Program (ASP), shows why antibiotics are important to him as part of Antibiotic Awareness Week campaign. (Photo: ASP)

Antibiotics are intertwined with almost every aspect of healthcare.

These drugs prevent infections when used before surgical procedures and kill bacteria that cause pneumonia, skin infections and urinary tract infections. They are part of everyday healthcare treatments ranging from chemotherapy to prostate biopsy.

Despite their vital role in many conditions, antibiotics are often used inappropriately.

Many conditions that do not require antibiotics such as acute bronchitis and sinusitis often receive antibiotic therapy. Moreover, many conditions that require antibiotics are commonly treated for too long or with antibiotics that are broader than they need be.

Antibiotic Awareness Week, which runs through Sunday, aims to have physicians and staff reflect on why these drugs are important to the entire healthcare system and consider how practice can be changed for the better when it comes to their use.

"Antibiotic Awareness Week is about celebrating the vital role that antibiotics play in the delivery of high-quality healthcare," says Dr. Mark McIntyre, Pharmacotherapy Specialist, Antimicrobial Stewardship Program (ASP).  "These drugs save lives. 

"However, patients and clinicians tend to focus on their good points and forget that antibiotics can cause side effects and resistant infections.  This loss of effectiveness puts current patients and future generations at risk." 

The misuse of antibiotics is driven by several factors including a perception that patients will become worse and die without them and that clinicians don't want to "miss something."

Excessive use of these agents has hastened the emergence of resistance and increased the rates of healthcare acquired infections, most commonly C. difficile.

Other examples of the scope of the problem and impact on patients and the healthcare system include:

  • More than 30 per cent of antibiotic usage is unnecessary or inappropriate
  • About 18,000 Canadians are admitted to hospital every year with resistant bacterial pathogens
  • An estimated 3000 Canadians die every year from resistant pathogens and C. difficile,  which is more than double the number of people who die as a result of motor vehicle accidents every year in Canada
  • Some 38,000 cases of C.difficile disease each year in Canada are treated in hospital or in the community and largely as a result of antibiotic exposure       .

Despite these rather alarming statistics, the clinical community and public are largely unaware of the significance and cost of this issue. More importantly, there are direct harms for patients now, and potentially decreasing ability to treat infections in the future.

To promote awareness of this issue, the Sinai Health System and University Health Network Antimicrobial Stewardship Program (SHS + UHN ASP) are running a campaign within their to encourage people to reflect on how they encounter antibiotics and resistance on a daily basis.

The SHS + UHN ASP will be asking physicians and staff to complete the phrase: "Antibiotics are important to me because…" Short answers will be written on a white board and photographed to create site-specific collages as well as posting individual pictures on social media.​

The hope is that this fun, interactive process will allow for a moment of reflection on why antibiotics are important to the entire healthcare system and have physicians and staff consider how they can change practice for the better.​

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