You have a cough and a cold. Before your doctor even finishes examining you, you asked the familiar question, “Doctor, can you give me antibiotics?”

Misuse of Antibiotics — It’s More Serious Than You Think!

Sounds familiar? Unfortunately, this question is common in our GP clinics and polyclinics. An NUS study in 2016 found that four in five patients with upper respiratory tract infections, which causes symptoms like runny nose and sore throats, do not know that antibiotics can’t help them. Many expect their doctor to include antibiotics in their prescriptions[1]. This can be more harmful than you imagine.

  • Antibiotics are not cure-all medicines. They only work for bacterial infections such as urinary tract infection or pneumococcal disease, and not common coughs, colds or sore throats which are usually caused by viruses.

  • Bacteria grow smarter over time to “fight back” or resist antibiotics. The more you overuse or misuse antibiotics when you don’t need them or don’t follow the doctor’s instructions when taking them, the less effective they become in future. This impacts the world’s population as a whole, and not just the person who misused them.

  • It is becoming harder to cure diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhoea (a type of sexually transmitted disease) because of bacteria growing resistant against antibiotics.

  • Therefore, don’t ask for antibiotics when you don’t need it. Your doctor is the best person to decide what kind of medicine and treatment you need!

  • Otherwise, you might be helping bacteria to become more resistant to antibiotics. Should there be a day when you really need antibiotics for a serious disease, it might no longer work.

How grave is this problem? Experts predict that antibiotic-resistant bacteria have the potential to kill more than 10 million people a year (more than cancer) and cost the world economy USD100 trillion annually[2] as antibiotics become less and less effective.

The most deadly stage will be a post-antibiotic era where antibiotics no longer work and common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.

This could mean that your next wisdom tooth extraction or a seemingly simple surgery to stitch up a wound might become high-risk operations.

Related: Antibiotics—To Take or Not to Take?

5 Things You Can Do To Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Due to the severity of the problem, the World Health Organization designates a World Antibiotic Awareness Week in November each year to spread knowledge on antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The message is simple, listen to your doctor’s advice before taking antibiotics[4].

In Singapore, the Ministry of Health has announced on November 1, 2017, a National Strategic Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance and has joined hands with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, National Environment Agency and PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, to tackle this global health threat here.

You can play a part too by doing these 5 things:

  1. Talk to your doctor about your need for antibiotics. Do not ask for antibiotics if your doctor did not prescribe it. And it’s not wise either to hop to the GP next door in the hope of getting antibiotics from the second doctor.

  2. Take the antibiotics according to your doctor’s instructions. Take note of how often you need to take them and whether to take them before or after food.

  3. Throw away any leftover or unused antibiotics. Keeping them in case you need them in future is not a good idea.

  4. Do not share antibiotics. When you are sick, always see your doctor who will prescribe medicine for you according to your condition.

  5. F.I.G.H.T. the spread of bacteria by practising good hygiene such as proper handwashing with soap and water, proper preparation of food and keeping up to date with your vaccinations. It’s best not to get sick in the first place!

When it comes to taking antibiotics, ask if you really need them and follow your doctor’s advice!

Read these next:


  1. National University of Singapore. (2016, Nov 30). Misconceptions about antibiotics [Website].
    Retrieved October 2017 from http://news.nus.edu.sg/highlights/misconceptions-about-antibiotics

  2. O'Neill, J. (2016, May). Tackling Drug-Resistant Infections Globally: Final Report and Recommendations [Website].
    Retrieved October 2017 from https://amr-review.org/sites/default/files/160525_Final%20paper_with%20cover.pdf

  3. World Health Organizations. (2017, Nov). Antibiotic resistance [Website].
    Retrieved October 2017 from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/antibiotic-resistance/en/

  4. WHO’s Antibiotic Awareness Week 2017 is from 13 to 19 November, with this year’s theme being “Seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional before taking antibiotics”.