Abu Dhabi, UAE: People must avoid overusing antibiotics and lead healthier lifestyles in order to avoid developing pneumococcal diseases like meningitis and community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), a leading healthcare professional said at a discussion in the capital on Wednesday.
This is because over the last two decades, rampant antibiotic overuse in the Middle East has caused the bacterium responsible for these diseases, the pneumococcus, to become increasingly resistant to penicillin in antibiotics, said Dr Nawal Al Kaabi, consultant in paediatric infectious diseases at Shaikh Khalifa Medical City.
“Pneumococcal diseases are still the largest killers of children worldwide, and also cause significant health problems for adults, including respiratory and congestive heart failures,” Dr Nawal said.
“Special care also needs to be taken because other risk factors for developing pneumococcal diseases, such as chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as a history of smoking, are also common amongst the UAE population,” she warned.
According to a 2008 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, pneumococcal diseases are responsible for approximately 1.6 million deaths annually, mostly in infants below the age of five and adults over the age of 65 years. Statistics on the incidence of the diseases in the UAE were, however, not available.
Depending on which part of the body is affected by the bacterium, the disease can present itself as one of several conditions, with the most severe being meningitis, in which the covering of the brain is infected.
Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Al Kaabi said that patients were often unaware of the proper use of antibiotics, and therefore tended to overuse them.
“For example, most infections that affect children are viral and therefore cannot be cured by antibiotics. However, many parents believe that the course of a viral infection is reduced with an antibiotic, and therefore request that these medicines be prescribed for their children,” she explained.
Doctors and physicians therefore need to spend time explaining to their patients the role of these drugs, Dr Nawal said.
The doctor also urged adults with risk factors to get vaccinated against the illnesses.
“The latest vaccine developed, the PCV13, protects the majority of people against most pneumococcal diseases, and has also been shown to reduce the bacterium’s resistance to antibiotics. While newborns in the UAE are already administered the vaccine as part of the Ministry of Health national immunisation programme, even adults with chronic illnesses, immune deficiencies and sickle cell anaemia should get themselves vaccinated,” she said.
The Haj period also sees a marked rise in CAP among adults due to the large concentration of people, and Dr Nawal recommended that pilgrims get the pneumococcal vaccine at least two weeks before heading out for the pilgrimage.
Certain precautions can often prevent pneumococcal bacteria from colonising your respiratory tracts:
Cover your mouth and face when coughing.
Wash your hands frequently.
Get regular flu shots to protect yourself from influenza.
Teach your children these healthy habits at an early age.
© Gulf NewsMay 2012