‘Antibiotic resistance is everyone’s business’: How WSLHD celebrated Antimicrobial Awareness Week

With wands at the ready, our Antimicrobial Stewardship leaders across Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) have armed our staff with knowledge in the fight against antimicrobial overuse – complete with Harry Potter themed prizes and cupcakes.

Antimicrobial Awareness Week is held each year and runs from 18 to 24 November. The focus of the week is sharing information and resources about antibiotics, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the impact of this on the future of medicine.

“AMR is a global threat, and not enough people understand or are aware of the consequences,” Blacktown Hospital’s Lead Antimicrobial Stewardship Pharmacist Kylie Tran said.

“Inappropriate use of antibiotics can result in these bugs becoming resistant – known as ‘superbugs’ – and with this, we have less and less antibiotics. We need to preserve our antibiotic armamentarium to ensure infections can be treated for future generations.”

Antimicrobials include antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitic medication, and antimicrobial resistant infections pose a big threat to the delivery of effective healthcare. This is because there are a limited number of antimicrobials available, and the rate of development for new microbials has decreased over time.

The impact of AMR for patients is severe, including ineffective treatment, toxicity issues, recurrent infection, delayed recovery and even death.

For our team at Blacktown Hospital, this is a big motivation for engaging with consumers and patients: to empower them to be able to advocate with informed opinions about antibiotics when seeking medical treatment.

“We’re trying to engage consumers, as well as Allied Health and nursing staff, to try to share a better understanding of the process. So many people who are on antibiotics don’t know why they’re on them or what they’re for,” Blacktown Hospital Staff Specialist Infectious Diseases, Dr Lucy Somerville said.

“A whole part of using antibiotics appropriately is about empowering patients to use them correctly and ask questions about them. If people can understand why we’re prescribing them, what they’re used for and the goals of therapy, I think that makes a whole lot more sense for people.”

The stall at Blacktown Hospital included games like ‘match the bacteria to the antibiotic’, a ‘spin the wheel’ quiz for consumers, themed cookies, cupcakes and a lolly jar guessing game.

Westmead Hospital also hosted a stall during the week, with special games and consumer information available.

“We need unwavering and consistent commitment to use antimicrobials judiciously, teamwork to reduce the rate of hospital acquired infections, and investment in innovative ideas to tackle this world crisis,” Westmead Antimicrobial Stewardship Pharmacist, Jenny Park said.

“One of the ways we can combat this is with ‘Phage therapy,’ which uses naturally found bacteriophages to destroy multi-resistant bacteria. This makes it a harmless, easy-to-produce alternative to antibiotics and can be the last line of defence against untreatable infections.

“Professor Jon Iredell (Director of the Centre for Infectious Disease and Microbiology at Westmead Hospital and Director of The Westmead Institute for Medical Research Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology), and Tammy Nguyen (Gene and Cellular Therapy Pharmacist at Westmead Hospital), and the team at Phage Australia are now making Phage therapy available in Westmead Hospital and all across Australia.”

For Dr Somerville, the main takeaway she hopes consumers, doctors, staff and patients have from this focus this week is to ask questions when dealing with antimicrobials and embrace the education opportunities available during these awareness weeks.

“Antibiotics Stewardship gets a bad rap because people think we’re just out there to police and stop antibiotics, whereas it’s about taking a step back and having appropriate prescribing and usage,” she said.