Creams and ointments containing antibiotics are emerging as a major concern in the war against antibiotic resistance, with research linking overuse among children with the risk of superbug infection.
Consequently, healthcare professionals are warning Australians against complacency with the use of topical antibiotics.
'When people think about antibiotics they usually imagine swallowing a pill or having an injection. They forget that antibiotics also come in creams and ointments for use on the skin," says specialist dermatologist Dr Ritu Gupta, from Platinum Dermatology in Sydney.
'When it comes to antibiotic resistance, skin antibiotics can be culprits too. This is important for people to be aware of, because so called topical antibiotics are often unnecessary and there are viable alternatives.
'We should only be prescribing topical and oral antibiotics when and if they are required. So if you have a fit and healthy person and a clean site then it doesn't necessarily need an antibiotic or an antibiotic ointment."
Dr Hartley Atkinson, Managing Director of AFT Pharmaceuticals, says that while many doctors and patients are aware of the risk of antibiotic overuse when treating a common cold or virus, that awareness is often overlooked for ointments and creams.
'A particular concern is the fact that researchers have identified a link between the overuse of topical antibiotics among children, and the drug resistant strains of the common staphylococcus aureu infection," he says.
'Another study has described a -rapid increase' in antibiotic resistance due to over-prescription of topical antibiotics.
'There's no doubt that antibiotic creams and ointments are flying under the radar when it comes to educating both medical practitioners and the community about correct use.
'It's crucial that the pharmaceutical industry works together with health professionals and consumers to reduce antibiotic use on a global scale – and a significant focus needs to be targeted at topical antibiotics.
'We all know that parents want to do the right thing and they may sometimes think an antibiotic is best for their child's skin problem – but the evidence shows that is simply not true in many cases."
Medical health practitioners advise using simple remedies to prevent infection in the first place.
Products such as Crystaderm First Aid Cream, which do not require a prescription, provide protection against skin infection in cuts, scrapes and grazes, with no known risk of bacterial resistance.
Dr Gupta agrees that prevention is the most important step.
'Keeping the wound clean with a salty water wash, which can be made up with a teaspoon of salt with a cup of warm water, is very helpful. Even a cap full of very, very diluted bleach in cooled boiled water can work as a very good antiseptic," she says.
'Applying a cream with low dose peroxide is an effective way to kill germs without the risk of building resistance. It's important to ensure a product has the right ingredients, such as Crystaderm."