Information for the public

Why is advice on antimicrobials needed?

Why is advice on antimicrobials needed?

Medicines used to treat infection are called antimicrobials. They include medicines for treating bacterial infections (antibiotics), fungal infections, viral infections and parasitic infections.

Antibiotics are antimicrobials that are widely used for treating a range of bacterial infections, including chest infections and urine infections. They are also used to help prevent infection in people who are at higher risk because they are having treatment for cancer or are having surgery.

Widespread use of antimicrobials has been linked to microbes such as bacteria and viruses changing and becoming resistant to treatment. This means that the antimicrobials we have no longer kill all microbes and some survive to cause long‑lasting and severe infections. This is known as antimicrobial resistance and the resistant microbes are often known as 'super bugs'. Unfortunately, the discovery of new antimicrobials (which would be more likely to control resistant microbes) has slowed down in recent years. If we are not careful we could face a situation in which the antimicrobials we have won't work against many infections.

Questions to ask about antimicrobials

  • What is an antimicrobial?

  • What is an antibiotic? Do antibiotics work for all infections?

  • What is antimicrobial resistance?

  • I've heard about microbes (bugs) becoming resistant to antimicrobials. Could my infection be caused by a resistant bug?

We need to use antimicrobials, particularly antibiotics, safely and wisely to protect our health and the health of future generations.

The NICE guideline on using antimicrobials safely and wisely offers advice on what organisations responsible for health and care services can do to help, and how health professionals who write prescriptions can help. It also offers advice on what organisations and local groups that make decisions about medicines (local decision‑making groups) should think about when new antimicrobials become available.

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