#HEALTH: Combating antibiotic resistance

IT'S a common scene played out in many neighbourhood clinics.

The patient pays a visit to the doctor for a sore throat and comes back with a stack of medicines, including a course of antibiotics.

In Malaysia, there is a trend among general practitioners to prescribe antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections, or URTIs. This is often due to patient expectations or demands, when it is known antibiotics are ineffective against viral URTIs and most patients will recover in a week even without antibiotic use.

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics are two of the common contributing factors for AMR, or antimicrobial resistance. Simply put, antibiotics will stop being effective and antibiotic-resistant infections thrive.

Founding member of the Global Respiratory Infection Partnership Malaysia, Dr Koh Kar Chai, says general practitioners, along with other healthcare professionals, are now aware of antimicrobial resistance and do counsel their patients on it.

Dr Koh, an AMR spokesperson and general practitioner, says education about the limited efficacy of antibiotics in treating viral infections is essential to curb this practice and prevent antibiotic resistance.

"URTIs are usually caused by viruses, so antibiotics are not effective. When patients request antibiotics for a sore throat, healthcare providers can offer alternative solutions for symptomatic relief, such as lozenges or throat sprays and other over-the-counter medications. (They can) recommend rest and hydration to alleviate their symptoms and help the body's immune response," says Dr Koh.

URTIs encompass various infections affecting the upper respiratory tract, notably the nose, throat and the voice box or larynx.

In Malaysia, URTIs are present all year long with spikes noted at various times and predominantly spread through respiratory droplets when an infected individual coughs, sneezes or talks in close proximity to others.

"Contact with contaminated surfaces followed by touching the face, particularly the eyes, nose or mouth, can also contribute to the transmission of these infections," says Dr Koh.

Misuse of antibiotics in farming and livestock can also pollute the environment with resistant microorganisms that impact the health of humans, food-producing and companion animals, plants and ecosystems.

The responsible use of antibiotics is paramount in preserving their effectiveness, he stresses. So, a multidisciplinary collaboration among various sectors is needed to ensure that antibiotics remain effective tools in the fight against infections.

A report published in 'The Lancet' states that superbug infections killed 1.2 million people in 2019. By 2050, antibiotic-resistant infections could cause 10 million deaths a year globally.

It has been estimated that in Malaysia, each year, more than RM150 million is being spent in hospitals to treat resistant infections.

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