Antibiotic awareness

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medicines used to treat a wide variety of infections or diseases caused by bacteria including:

  • respiratory tract infections (such as whooping cough and pneumonia)
  • urinary tract infections
  • skin infections

NPS Medicinewise – antibiotics

Join us in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives since they were introduced in the 1940s and 1950s, and it’s hard to imagine a world without them. However because they have been overused and misused in the decades since, many antibiotics are no longer effective against the bacteria they once killed. This is known as antibiotic resistance and it’s an important health issue that we at Children’s Health Queensland are committed to take a stand against.

The World Health Organisation has called antibiotic resistance one of the greatest threats to public health today. It can affect anyone, of any age, in any country.

Australia is contributing to the problem with one of the highest rates of antibiotic use in the developed world – around 29 million prescriptions are issued every year.

The world urgently needs to change the way it prescribes and uses antibiotics. Even if new medicines are developed, without behaviour change, antibiotic resistance will remain a major threat. Behaviour changes must also include actions to reduce the spread of infections through vaccination, hand washing, and good food hygiene.

What is antibiotic resistance and how does it affect me?

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change to protect themselves from an antibiotic. When this happens, antibiotics that previously would have killed the bacteria, or stopped them from multiplying, no longer work. The more antibiotics are used the more chance bacteria have to become resistant to them.

This means bacterial infections such as golden staph that were once easily cured with antibiotics are becoming harder to treat. ‘Superbugs’ (bacteria that are resistant to several different antibiotics) are also becoming more common.

Antibiotic resistance: the facts

What can I do about it?

There are simple steps that everyone can take to help preserve the power of antibiotics for current and future generations. The first is to be aware of the most common mistakes and misconceptions people make about antibiotics. These are:

  1. Do not use or ask for antibiotics if they are not needed. Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. They do not work on infections caused by viruses, such as colds, flus, and most coughs, so please don’t ask your doctor for them. If you are usually healthy, your immune system will take care of most respiratory tract infections — both viral and some bacterial infections — by itself.
  2. Do not use old packs of antibiotics for a new infection.
  3. Do not share antibiotics with family and friends.
  4. Always follow the dosage and directions prescribed by your doctor and pharmacist – this includes the right amount and at the right time. If you do not follow the prescription, bacteria in your system can become resistant. It’s also vital that you always finish the full dose – even if you start feeling better.

Antibiotic use patient decision aids

The Commission has produced three patient decision aids on antibiotic use for sore throat, acute bronchitis and middle ear infection in children in primary care.

These patient decision aids are designed to be used by clinicians with patients in the clinical consultation.

Patient decision aid – sore throat

Patient decision aid – acute bronchitis

Patient decision aid – middle ear infection

And always wash your hands!

If you or someone in your family is sick, it’s important to always practise good hygiene (wash hands properly and discard used tissues) to help prevent the spread of infection – and the transfer of antibiotic resistant bacteria to others.

Even when no one is sick in your family, it’s good to get in the habit of washing your hands whenever:

  • When your hands are visibly dirty
  • Before you eat
  • Before you prepare food items
  • After touching raw meats like chicken or beef
  • After contact with any body fluids like blood, urine or vomit
  • After changing infant or adult nappies
  • After touching animals or pets
  • After blowing your nose or sneezing
  • After going to the toilet

Hand Hygiene Australia – how to handwash?

Take the pledge

NPS MedicineWise has a created a five-point pledge that consumers can take to join the fight against antibiotic resistance – take the pledge.

Useful links

Antibiotic resistance: the facts

What every parent should know about coughs, colds, earaches and sore throats

Hand Hygiene Australia

Activities and games

Colouring-in downloads

Download our colouring-in pages for kids to help teach them about antibiotics and why we have to protect them.


Try these fun educational games and quizzes to learn more about antibiotics