Northern Ireland doctor's fears grow over bugs resistant to antibiotics
A medical expert has warned that antibiotic resistance could become a danger to public health in Northern Ireland.
Dr Anne Loughrey, a consultant medical microbiologist at the Belfast Trust, said steps must be taken to address the issue to ensure the future of lifesaving operations such as transplant surgery.
"It is a current problem and it is an increasing problem," she said.
"Do we have the potential to reach a pre-antibiotic era? We're not there yet and we're trying very hard not to be there.
"The time isn't here yet, but the potential is there and antibiotic resistance is a significant risk to public health."
Dr Loughrey, who has specialised in microbiology for the majority of her 35-year medical career, said antibiotic resistance is increasingly becoming a problem for doctors trying to treat patients.
"We are trying to get the right antibiotic, at the right time, at the right duration," she said.
But as a growing number of bugs become resistant to antibiotics, treatment options are reduced, which in turn impacts on patient care.
She explained: "The choice of antibiotic to use is reduced and you may have to use an intravenous drug instead of oral. This means you are more likely to have to stay in hospital and stay longer in hospital, you may have more side-effects because you haven't been able to choose your first choice of antibiotic."
A GP based in west Belfast has also warned of the dangers of the inappropriate use of antibiotics and said family doctors are faced with patients needlessly demanding such medication on a daily basis.
Dr Michael McKenna said: "You have patients coming in with self-limiting illnesses that don't need an antibiotic and they are of the opinion that their GP should prescribe one.
"It is quite a significant issue within general practice."
The doctors were speaking out ahead of the publication of a five-year strategy to halt the increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Antibiotics have become a crucial part of healthcare since they were first discovered in 1928.
Since then they have been used to save millions of lives from infection.
However, health professionals have warned that an over-reliance on the drugs is making them less effective against a growing number of bugs.