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Pharmacists on the Front Line in Fight Against Antibiotic Resistance

It is widely known in the health and medicines industry that the spread and development of antibiotic resistance is a complex and significant worldwide threat to human health. Outside of our sector, however, awareness and knowledge about the issue is limited.

According to NPS MedicineWise research, 1 in 5 Australians still expect to receive antibiotics when they visit their general practitioner with a cough or cold. A script for these medicines remains the default solution for many as soon as they feel sick, with patient expectations leading many general practitioners to prescribe antibiotics when they may not be effective.

As health professionals, we share a joint responsibility with our customers and other medical professionals to reduce the inappropriate use of antibiotics. We need to empower people to make better informed decisions about their symptom management. And we need to act now because antibiotic resistance isn’t a problem only future generations need to worry about.

With pharmacists being the trusted initial point of contact for many Australians seeking guidance about their health, their position on the front-line fight against antibiotic resistance is extremely important. Their daily interactions with customers could be the difference between someone giving their immune system the requisite time to overcome an infection, or needlessly requesting a script for antibiotics from their doctor.

Increasing consumer medicines literacy is a key part in reducing unnecessary scripts. While you may be across the issue, and you know the facts about antibiotic resistance, it’s good to make sure your customers and pharmacy staff understand the part they can play in preventing antibiotic resistance.

Know and Communicate the Facts

Bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, not your body. Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change or mutate to protect themselves from an antibiotic. The more often antibiotics are used or taken incorrectly, the more chance bacteria have to change and become resistant to them. This can make bacterial infections much harder to treat. These are all important messages that should be delivered to customers if they raise antibiotic usage with you.

Emphasise Antibiotics Don’t Work for All Infections

Many people don’t understand that antibiotics only work on bacteria, not other infections like viruses that cause colds and flu. Taking an antibiotic when it’s not needed will not make a significant difference to how they feel or how fast they recover. And, when they start to feel better, it’s usually because their immune system is doing the work to fight the infection.

Set Accurate Expectations

Understandably, people want to recover from their illness as soon as possible, but what some don’t realise is that it can take the immune system as long as 10 days to overcome a viral infection. By emphasising this, and offering over-the-counter options that can make them feel more comfortable during their recovery, they may be less inclined to prematurely rush for an antibiotic script.

Share Observations Amongst Your Staff

It’s important that you and your staff members identify and share observations about any common symptoms customers are experiencing at any given time. For instance, if over the past few weeks high numbers of people suffering flu-like symptoms have been visiting the pharmacy asking for advice, all staff, particularly junior and casual staff, should be aware of this. It will better inform the guidance they provide customers suffering similar conditions. This sharing of information could take the form of a short meeting or briefing before you open for the day.

Green Mucous or Phlegm Doesn’t Mean you Need Antibiotics

Sometimes there is a misconception that green or yellow mucous or phlegm is a sign of a bacterial infection, and that also goes for other symptoms including cough, sore throat, earaches and fever. While some people with these symptoms will need antibiotics, most people won’t and will get better without antibiotics. Green or yellow coloured snot can in fact be a sign that their immune system is fighting the infection, and not that the illness is getting worse.

The actions you take can make a difference in the fight against antibiotic resistance. For more information please visit

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