Posted on March 27, 2015

‘Have the superbugs won or can we still preserve antibiotics for the next generation?’

The rapid development of more and more effective antibiotics combined with their misuse has led the human body to become resistant to antibiotics. The overuse of such drugs means that bacteria can figure out how to protect themselves from antibiotics, which are designed to kill them. This has led to the rise of the ‘superbugs’ and means we may be close returning to a time that simple infections are no longer treatable as the antibiotics may not work. The battle with antibiotic resistance and superbugs will be discussed at the final lectures of the 2014/2015 series of RCSI’s (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) MiniMed Lecture Series. 

The lecture will be given by Dr Fidelma Fitzpatrick, a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology at RCSI and Consultant Microbiologist in Beaumont Hospital and Dr Nuala O’Connor, a General Practitioner in Cork, who is the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) Lead Advisor on Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotics are specific medicines used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics don’t work against infections caused by viruses, such as colds and influenza. Overuse of antibiotics has led to the rise in antibiotic resistance bacteria ‘the superbugs’ both nationally and internationally. In this talk, Drs Fitzpatrick and O’Connor will outline how antibiotics, which were hailed as miracle drugs, have transformed modern medicine and how antibiotic resistance occurs and spreads. They will bring the public on an A-Z tour of the different types of superbugs as well as explaining the threat of a return to the pre-antibiotic era if the superbugs win.

“It is sobering to remember how much antibiotics have revolutionised medical practice in the last 75 years and saved millions of lives since their discovery. Then antibiotic resistance was little understood and the pipeline of new antibiotics seemed endless. There was no attempt to use these agents wisely”, said Dr Fitzpatrick, who was also the National Clinical Lead for Healthcare-associated Infection and Antimicrobial Resistance Prevention from 2010 to 2014.

“Antibiotic resistance remains one of the greatest potential threats to human health. In the lecture, we hope to give guests a better understanding of antibiotics, why and when you need them, their role in human health as a life-saving drug and understand how everybody, both prescribers and patients, has a role in preserving these lifesaving miracle drugs for future generations”, continued Dr Fitzpatrick.

In this information session both speakers will offer advice on appropriate use of antibiotics as well as practical tips that will stop the spread of superbugs and help decrease reliance on antibiotics. Dr O’Connor offers a few suggestions: “Firstly, you can reduce your risk of infection by living a healthy lifestyle with a good diet and exercise and get vaccinations to prevent infectious diseases. Always practice good hygiene if you do develop an infection such as using a tissue to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough and wash your hands after which will stop the bugs from spreading. It’s important that you discuss with your GP whether or not you actually need antibiotic to fight your infection. Most coughs, colds, flus, sore throats, earaches, rashes and tummy bugs are caused by viruses and antibiotics have no effect on viruses.”

“Remember antibiotics themselves can have nasty side-effects and cause harm. Check out the for tips on how to treat common infections. You seldom need an antibiotic from your GP; if it is a viral illness, rest and time may be the best solution but if you are prescribed antibiotics, use them correctly. Take the medication exactly as prescribed and finish the course. Don’t save antibiotics for later and don’t share them with others. Antibiotics are a precious resource and we need to use them wisely. Keeping antibiotics effective for future generations is everyone’s responsibility” continued Dr O’Connor.

The RCSI MiniMed Open Lecture Series is free of charge; however registration is essential in order to guarantee a place. Previous lecture series have attracted widespread public interest with demand for places far outstripping availability. Register online at and you can join the conversation online, on the night, on Twitter at #RCSIMiniMed. To view previous RCSI MiniMed lectures from the last series on the RCSI YouTube channel at

RCSI is among the top 50 most international universities in the world (Times Higher Education University World Rankings, 2014-15). It is a not-for-profit health sciences institute which focuses on education and research to drive positive change in all areas of human health worldwide. RCSI is headquartered in Dublin and is a recognised College of the National University of Ireland. In 2010, RCSI was granted independent degree awarding status by the State, which enables the College to award degrees alongside its traditional powers to award licentiates.

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