Antibiotic resistance might seem like an issue that will only face future generations, but the reality is it's a very real and growing concern in the UK.
It's estimated that at least 5,000 deaths are caused every year in England because antibiotics no longer work for some infections - and this figure is only set to rise. According to Public Health England, experts predict that in 30 years time, antibiotic resistance will kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined.
Worryingly, we're already at the stage where almost half of patients with an E.coli bloodstream infection in England cannot be treated with the most commonly used antibiotic in hospitals.
Dr Kenny Livingstone, an NHS GP and founder of on-demand home-visiting service ZoomDoc, tells HuffPost UK: "The antibiotics that worked several years ago no longer work that effectively. This is especially the case with STIs: there are some strains of gonorrhoea in the north of England where there are no antibiotics that can treat it.
"The infectious disease specialists are scratching their heads and wondering what to do. It's really worrying. There should be alarm bells ringing for all of us."
Education surrounding antibiotic use is key. To help the nation wise up, we spoke to GPs about what we should and shouldn't be taking them for.
What you should NOT be taking antibiotics for
"Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, and, despite popular belief, should not be used for viral infections such as colds and ear infections," Dr Clare Morrison, GP at MedXpress, tells HuffPost UK.
"This is because colds and many other infections of the upper respiratory tract as well as some ear infections are caused by viruses, not bacteria."
If you have any of the following ailments, you should not be taking antibiotics:
- Fever / high temperature
- Some ear infections
- Sore throat
Dr Morrison adds: "If you are suffering from a viral infection and taking antibiotics, the 'good' bacteria in your body (bacteria that are beneficial and not causing disease) would be affected. This leads to resistance or creates an opportunity for harmful bacteria to replace the harmless ones."
What you should be taking antibiotics for
- Urinary tract infections
- Strep throat
- Bacterial sinusitis
- Bacterial ear infection
- Bacterial chest infections
- Cellulitis and infections of the skin
What to do next
If you've got some antibiotics that you haven't finished stashed in your cupboard at home, the message is simple: get rid of them.
To do so safely, Dr Livingstone recommends taking them to your local pharmacy where they can be disposed of safely.
"Unfortunately a lot of medications end up in bins and then they end up in the soil and rivers and water system," he explains. "And it's not just antibiotics. With the pill, for example, you can now detect oestrogen and hormones within the water supply.
"It's better that all medications including antibiotics are given back to the pharmacy to dispose of safely."