You’ve Heard About a Carbon Footprint...But Do You Know Your Antibiotic Footprint?
We’ve all heard about the ways we can help combat climate change by reducing our ‘carbon footprint.’ Taking public transit, using recyclable and reusable materials, and eating less red meat are common things we do to protect our planet. You can even measure your carbon footprint by going to sites like the Carbon Calculator.
But are you aware of the antibiotic resistance footprint?
Much like climate change, antibiotic resistance is a major global health threat that is directly tied to the choices we make. It’s a pretty simple cause and effect – the more we use antibiotics, the greater the chance of the harmful bacteria evolving and adapting to the antibiotics and becoming resistant. Once bacteria become resistant, we can’t use the same antibiotic anymore for that patient’s care. The number one cause of antibacterial resistance is the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.
In other words, excessive use of antibiotics makes our medicine obsolete. It means that infections that used to be treatable suddenly become more difficult to treat, or in the worst cases - untreatable.
This isn’t just theoretical, either. In 2018, 240,000 people died from drug-resistant tuberculosis alone. Twice as many patients die from infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria than those caused by non-resistant bacteria. If we can find a way to communicate how our own behaviours increase antibiotic resistance, we can try to stop it from getting worse and, hopefully, save lives.
This is why researchers have coined the term “antibiotic resistance footprint.” This term may make you think of a “carbon footprint.” We use energy to live but try to reduce our carbon footprint to protect our earth’s precious natural resources. Similarly, we need to use antibiotics in modern medicine, but it is important to save antibiotics for when they are really needed. You might imagine antibiotics as tiny pills or creams or soaps and might not realize how much they are used – however, many countries use thousands of metric tonnes of antibiotics every year. On average, 2% of Canadians (over 730,000 people) receive an antibiotic prescription every single day, which works out to about 262,590 kilograms per year as of 2017. When we compare our use here in Canada to our nearest neighbours, US residents receive around 30% more antibiotic prescriptions per capita than Canadian residents.
How to Reduce Your Antibiotic Footprint
Taking antibiotics, safely and as recommended by a doctor, is essential. The point of tracking national antibiotic consumption and personal resistance behaviours is not to stop using antibiotics. Rather, it’s to think about the behaviours that enable antibiotic resistance to form more quickly than it does naturally. While we can’t measure our own footprint yet, the Antibiotic Wise team recommends doing the following things to help combat antibiotic resistance:
1) Wash your hands thoroughly and often with plain soap and water.
2) Always get your recommended immunizations to help prevent sickness.
3) Don’t take antibiotics unnecessarily, like for colds and flu.
4) Take antibiotics as directed by your doctor or nurse practitioner.
5) Only take antibiotics that are prescribed for you.
6) Dispose of unused antibiotics at the pharmacy.
7) Avoid household products labeled ‘antibacterial,’ ‘antimicrobial’ or ‘antiseptic’.
For more information on antibiotic resistance and how to combat it visit www.antibioticwise.ca.
This article/quiz was developed in partnership with the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Community Antimicrobial Stewardship Team.