When it is OK to just put your feet up

Public Health England (PHE) has updated its guidance on antibiotics, with advice including fighting infections with plenty of rest with your feet up at home.

The new PHE media campaign encourages people to use good old-fashioned methods as a first line of defence against winter colds and infections, including drinking plenty of fluids, taking over-the-counter pain killers such as paracetamol, and staying at home resting, which not only helps you to recover but also stops the infection spreading in the workplace.

The new report from the PHE English Surveillance Programme for Antimicrobial Utilisation and Resistance (ESPAUR) reveals that antibiotic-resistant infections cause about 5,000 deaths a year in England. PHE officials say people need to realise that patients are already suffering from the rise of untreatable superbugs. This is a direct result of the commonplace use, and abuse, of our precious bank of antibiotic drugs.

The report gives the example of the effects of antibiotics on E. coli infections. Research shows that four in 10 E. coli bloodstream infections are now resistant to the most commonly used antibiotic: that is up from three in 10 five years ago. As a result, many patients now need to stay longer in hospital because of the growing resistance to the drugs.

England’s chief medical officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, has already warned of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse”. If the drugs cannot do their job, infections not only become harder to treat, but also common medical procedures such as joint replacements or gall bladder removals could become too risky.

Care UK’s expert on pharmacy matters, Yousaf Ahmad, said: “Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats facing us as we move into the next decade. The overuse of antibiotics in recent years means they are becoming less effective and this has led to the emergence of what newspaper headlines have referred to as ‘superbugs’.

“Put simply, in a large population of bacteria, there may be some that are not affected by an antibiotic. While others die, these survive and reproduce, creating more bacteria that are not affected by the antibiotic. The more people are prescribed antibiotics, the more resistant strains are created.

“While it may seem just the advice your mother gave you when you were young, the PHE advice is right. Stay at home, keep hydrated and take regular painkillers to deal with the aches and pains of an infection. Culturally, over recent years, we have developed an attitude that we should struggle on regardless. We now feel guilty if we are not ‘on duty’ 24/7. It is time to let that attitude go – if you are ill, be ill, and keep it to yourself. Your family and employer will thank you in the long run.”

As always, older people or those who have other health issues that may affect their immune system are advised to be more cautious about possible infections and seek advice from a pharmacist or NHS 111. For example, at this time of year, chest infections are one of the more common reasons why people seek antibiotics – you can read more about when to seek advice on the NHS Choices website.

People who are frail or have other illnesses should also seek advice if they have suspected ‘proper’ flu-like symptoms such as fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and unusual tiredness. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than adults. However, do remember – your GP won’t be prescribing antibiotics for colds and flu as they are caused by a virus and antibiotics can’t tackle viral infections.

Of course, the other bit of old fashioned advice is that prevention is better than cure so don’t forget about hand washing and, if you haven’t done so already, do consider getting a flu jab.