Awareness Week highlights dangers of over use of antibiotics

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride and DAERA’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Robert HueyChief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride and DAERA’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Robert Huey
Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride and DAERA’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Robert Huey
During this year’s World Antimicrobial Resistance Awareness Week (WAAW), the Public Health Agency (PHA) has joined with Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer and Chief Veterinary Officer in asking everyone to join the collective effort to help prevent the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The theme for this year’s WAAW (18-24 November) is Preventing Antimicrobial Resistance Together. AMR occurs when microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites) change over time and no longer respond to medicines making infections harder to treat. The more we use antibiotics, such as penicillin, and other antimicrobial medicines the less effective they become.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been declared one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity and it is one which requires continued collaboration, across borders, now and in the future. That is why the Department of Health is working in partnership with stakeholders in NI and across the UK and the Republic of Ireland to tackle this growing crisis and to ensure antibiotics keep working.”

Antibiotics are needed for serious bacterial infections. When antibiotics are not used correctly, the bacteria they are designed to treat can become resistant.

Dr Amanda McCullough, AMR Programme Manager at the PHA, said: “Using too many antibiotics, and using them incorrectly, are key reasons that antibiotic resistance develops. As a result, some antibiotics have become less effective against the bacterial infections they were designed to treat making antibiotic resistance a serious threat to you and your family’s health.

“Everyone has a part to play in protecting antibiotics. It is only when we work together to use antibiotics correctly that we can make a difference and help to protect the antibiotics we have to ensure they continue to work now and in the future.”

You can play an important role in limiting AMR by:

- regularly washing your hands and keeping up to date with vaccinations to help prevent infections;

- visiting your pharmacist for advice. Most simple infections clear up on their own. Over-the-counter medicines may help you to manage your symptoms;

- understanding that antibiotics only work against bacteria – they don’t work for colds, flus or COVID-19 which are caused by viruses;

- discussing with your GP whether you really need antibiotics and ask about other ways to relieve your symptoms;

- only taking antibiotics when your doctor or health professional prescribes them for you and do not use or share leftover antibiotics;

- following your veterinarian’s instructions when they prescribe antibiotics for your animal.

If each of us follows the simple steps above we can all keep antibiotics working for the future.

DAERA’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Robert Huey, said: “Research from World Organisation of Animal Health shows the global use of antimicrobials in animals has declined by 27% in three years. Within the UK, the recently published VARSS report shows a 9% drop on the previous year and a remarkable drop of 59% since 2014 in the sales of antibiotics for use in food producing animals. The animal health sector is on the right track. Let’s keep using antimicrobials responsibly across all sectors with the mantra to use antibiotics as little as possible and only as much as necessary. Prevention is better than cure. Implementing good biosecurity, vaccine use, and husbandry practices is key to reduce the disease burden in animal populations and therefore, the need of antimicrobials, while protecting animal health, welfare, and productivity.

“Fighting AMR is a truly global endeavour and must be addressed through a One Health approach. To curb it effectively, all sectors must join forces and encourage the prudent use of antimicrobials, as well as preventive measures.”

As part of the Living Well service throughout November community pharmacies are highlighting the importance of keeping antibiotics working.

Living Well is a community-based pharmacy service offered in over 500 pharmacies across Northern Ireland. It is delivered in partnership with the PHA, Community Pharmacy NI and the Department of Health.

For more information, pick up a free Keep antibiotics working leaflet at your local community pharmacy and visit and

Antibiotics don’t work against the flu or COVID 19, but getting your winter vaccinations, if eligible, can help keep you safe. For further information on the winter vaccines see

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