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Dr Michael McBride: Abuse of vital resource has now come back to haunt us

By Dr Michael McBride

This year I am pleased to launch my 10th annual report as Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, with the focus this time on the growing global problem of antibiotic resistance. Recent studies show that if we don't act now, we could see deaths from antibiotic resistance rise from 700,000 to 10 million every year globally within the next 30 years.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics designed to treat infections. This is dangerous because we need antibiotics when carrying out even routine operations, such as hip replacements.

We also run the risk of infectious diseases like pneumonia becoming untreatable.

Antibiotic resistance has developed because we have over-used and misused the antibiotics available to us.

In addition, no new antibiotics have been introduced for use in clinical practice since 1987.

The good news is that all of us can do something to help prevent the growth of antibiotic resistance. To start with, remember to practise good hand hygiene to help prevent the spread of infection in the first place.

If you have a cold or flu, remember that antibiotics don't work on viruses so look after yourself with plenty of rest, fluids and over-the-counter remedies.

Of course, if your symptoms persist for longer than normal or you have a long-term medical condition or immune deficiency, you should take advice from your doctor or pharmacist.

Finally, if you are prescribed antibiotics, remember that your doctor is the best person to provide advice on the dose and length of the treatment, so you should always finish the antibiotics given to you, even if you start to feel better.

My annual report also describes the link between our health and antibiotics used in farming and food. One of my top priorities over the next year is to work closely with my colleagues in the agriculture, environment and food sectors to identify ways in which we, as leaders at the heart of government, can make a difference.

As well as lots of information about antibiotic resistance, my annual report contains important information about looking after your mental health; how to look after your children's teeth, how to make sure you're getting enough vitamin D and much more.

To access my annual report go on to the department's website at

  • Dr Michael McBride is Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland

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