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Antibiotics (also known as antibacterials) are used to treat or prevent bacterial infections. They work by either killing the bacteria or preventing them from reproducing and spreading. The development of antibiotics has been long and complicated. It wasn’t until the 1940s that they were first used; their successful use has been one of the greatest advances in medicine.

However, now due to the overuse of antibiotics, there are some bacteria that are resistant (i.e. they don’t respond) to the antibiotics that worked in the past. It is important that you always use all the antibiotics you are given, even if you feel better as then the treatment is more likely to be successful. It also reduces the chances of the bacteria becoming resistant in the future.

Antibiotics are used to treat chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis, however, some strains are now resistant to the antibiotics normally used to treat them, which means it will be more difficult to treat you if you get one of these strains.

Until recently, the main way to avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV was not to have sex or to use condoms. However, the sustained and widespread use of PrEP is seeing a reduction in condom use, resulting in an increase in STIs (other than HIV) at a time when the antibiotics used to treat some STIs no longer work.

The antibiotic apocalypse explained | Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell) | 16 Mar 2016 | 5m 57s

Antibiotics | NHS
Antibiotics | Wikipedia
About antibiotic resistance | Antibiotic research UK
Antibiotic resistance | World Health Organisation (WHO) | Nov 2017
Antibiotic resistance | Antibiotic Research UK

News and articles

Rise of drug-resistant superbugs could make Covid pandemic look ‘minor’, expert warns | The Guardian | 13 May 2024
Antibiotic-resistant infections rise in England but still below pre-Covid levels | The Guardian | 15 Nov 2023
New data shows 148 severe antibiotic-resistant infections a day in 2021 | GOV.UK | 21 Nov 2022
Using antibiotics to prevent STIs | HIV Prevention England | 17 Nov 2022
NHS lands breakthrough in global battle against superbugs | NHS England | 15 Jun 2022
‘Extremely drug-resistant’ strain of painful STI shigella is on the rise, worrying statistics show | Pink News | 27 Jan 2022
Hidden pandemic of antibiotic-resistant infections, health officials warn | BBC | 17 Nov 2021
‘We will be dying from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in a decade’ | EL PAÍS | USA | 25 Jun 2021
GPs urged not to test gay men for STI 'super bug' over fears it will become more antibiotic resistant | The Guardian | 16 Mar 2021
The other pandemic: Once-treatable diseases are growing resistant to antibiotics | The Conversation | 24 Jan 2021
 Almost one in ten HIV PrEP users report buying antibiotics for STI prevention, raising concerns over potential antibiotic resistance | nam aidsmap | 20 Nov 2020
Lack of new antibiotics threatens global efforts to contain drug-resistant infections | World Health Organisation | 17 Jan 2020
Multi-drug resistant Shigella detected in the UK and USA, mostly in gay men | nam aidsmap | 22 Jan 2019
How dangerous is gonorrhoea resistance and can it be halted? | nam aidsmap | 6 Dec 2018
Chemsex and PrEP reliance are fuelling a rise in syphilis among men who have sex with men | The Conversation | 28 Nov 2018
Keep antibiotics working | Public Health England | 23 Oct 2018
Super-gonorrhoea is here – that means the antibiotic crisis is too | The Guardian | 30 Mar 2018
Antibiotic resistance could take us back to... where 40% of us died from infections | Prof. Sally Davies, Chief Med.  Officer for England | Huff Post | 29 Jan 2018
Fifth of prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary, study finds | The Guardian | 27 Feb 2018
Number of new antibiotics has fallen sharply since 2000 | The Guardian | 28 Jan 2018
Not enough new antibiotics are being developed to combat lethal drug resistance, warns WHO | The Independent | 20 Sep 2017
Multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea in England: 2018 | Public Health England (PHE) | 18 Mar 2017
Health matters: antimicrobial resistance | PHE/ GOV.UK 10 Dec 2015
Sepsis is on the rise, warns medical expert | The Independent | 20 Aug 2014
Are you ready for a world without antibiotics? | The Guardian | 12 Aug 2010

The crisis in antibiotic resistance | Harold C Neu | Science, Vol 257 | 21 Aug 1992

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