Antibiotic Guardians: two-way learning through science festivals
18 November 2022
Department General Infections & acute care
World Antibiotic Awareness Week is upon us! This global campaign, taking place between 18-24 November 2022, aims to improve the awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), as well as promote practices to ensure the responsible use of antibiotics.
International organisations, such as the WHO, have called for urgent action to tackle the AMR crisis.
A recent analysis published in The Lancet found that 1.3 million deaths globally were directly attributed to AMR in 2019. By 2050 drug-resistant infections could cause 10 million deaths annually. The startling current and future consequences of AMR mean that it is increasingly described as a silent or overlooked pandemic.
In the Infections & Acute Care Research Group our research focuses on how we can optimise the diagnosis and management of common infections and antibiotic prescribing. This year we took our key messages to the public as part of two science festivals in Oxford: the Oxford Science + Ideas Festival and the Festival of Social Science.
We found the science festivals to be a great two-way learning experience. Below, we share some of this learning and our reflections.
What did we want the public to learn?
- To understand what AMR is and that we all need to do to protect antibiotics so they keep working when we really need them. Children and adults loved our Giant Microbes that helped us explain the differences between good and bad microbes, and between bacteria and viruses. Children also enjoyed colouring super-hero masks to become Antibiotic Guardians.
- To realise that common infections often last longer that we might expect (or than we want them to!), and most get better without antibiotics.
- To understand that there are many things we can do to prevent infections from spreading, as well as ways to manage our symptoms and help our immune systems to fight the infections if we catch them.
What did we learn from it?
- People (at least those attending science festivals in Oxford) seemed to be aware that antibiotics don’t work for colds, flu, Covid-19 and norovirus. This suggests that the public health campaigns around avoiding antibiotics for viral illnesses have had some effect. However, people’s views were more mixed around other infections, the extent to which they may or may not benefit from antibiotics, and how long they typically last
- We asked what people can do to stop infections from spreading. It was apparent that some messages promoted during the Covid-19 pandemic have stayed with people. Washing hands regularly was by far the most common suggestion. Many, even small children, talked about self-isolating and social distancing, with some saying: ‘don’t go near the elderly’, ‘don’t visit vulnerable people’ and (heart-breaking!) ‘don’t see loved ones’.
- We also explored ideas for how we can help ourselves get better. There were lots of suggestions. The most common were to rest, sleep, stay warm, take medicine (pain relief), drink lots of water and eat healthily. There were some suggestions for home remedies, especially involving honey, lemon, garlic and ginger. Finally, there were many (heart-warming!) suggestions around ‘doing something that makes you happy’ and ‘cuddles’.
Whilst we were pleasantly surprised by public knowledge and understanding in some areas (e.g. preventing transmission of infection), it seems as though there is more work to be done around promoting antibiotic stewardship to the public. For example, public health messages may focus on raising awareness of the limited benefit from antibiotics for infections other than cold or flu, and around the typical duration of infections.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable, if intensive at times, experience, which reinforced our motivation to be involved in health research.
We would encourage other research groups to engage with the public at these sorts of events. It was a great way to share research with people beyond those who read scientific journals! We also found that many people were interested in getting involved in research and in the future, we will ensure that we include a way for people to sign up to get involved whilst visiting the stall.
We would also encourage everyone to share awareness of the importance of antibiotic stewardship.
You could also pledge to become Antibiotic Guardian!
Antibiotic Guardian | Pledge to be an Antibiotic Guardian
We even got a mention by a local MP, Anneliese Dodds!
Aleksandra Borek, Marta Wanat, Abi Moore, Carla Wright, Kome Gbinigie and Sarah Tonkin-Crine, Infections and Acute Care Research Group
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