The World Health Organisation has warned the overuse of antibiotics is fuelling dangerously high resistance levels and called on individual countries to tackle misconceptions about the drugs.
Its latest survey of 12 countries shows many people misunderstand antibiotics and as a result are misusing them.
WHO survey found:
- 64 per cent think antibiotics can treat cold and flu viruses.
- 32 per cent think they can stop taking antibiotics once they felt better.
- 66 per cent believe individuals are not at risk of a drug-resistant infection if they personally take their antibiotics as prescribed.
- 64 per cent believe medical experts will solve the problem before it becomes too serious.
- 44 per cent think antibiotic resistance is only a problem for people who take antibiotics regularly.
- 57 per cent there is not much they they do to stop antibiotic resistance.
“The rise of antibiotic resistance is a global crisis,” said Margaret Chan, the global director of the WHO.
The WHO said misuse is pushing the world towards a “post-antibiotic era” in which common infections could once again claim lives.
“The threat is easy to describe: Antimicrobiol resistance is on the rise in every region of the worlds,” Ms Chan said.
Bacterial diseases are increasingly becoming immune to commonly used antibiotics, fuelling ‘super bugs’ that are resistant to treatment.
This latest WHO research was carried out in mostly developing countries, including Nigeria, Vietnam, and India.
Sixty-four per cent of respondents wrongly thought antibiotics would treat cold and flu viruses, while almost a third thought they could stop taking antibiotics once they felt better and it was not necessary to complete the course.
Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s special representative for antimicrobial resistance, said the survey showed a disturbing lack of knowledge.
“The reason why this is so important is that this overuse and this misuse of these medicines is taking what happens normally – resistance can develop normally – it’s just really accelerating the process,” she said.
“It’s really jumping it up to a much faster speed.”
Part of the problem is the ease with which antibiotics can be obtained in some countries.
Forty-four per cent of Russians who had taken antibiotics in the past year had not been prescribed the drugs, while 5 per cent of Chinese users had ordered them off the internet.
Professor Matt Cooper, based at the Centre for Superbug Solutions at the University of Queensland, said levels of misinformation about antibiotics were generally higher in the developing world but that has implications in Australia.
“[Bacteria] haven’t got any passports so of we have an issue in Russia or in the Middle East or South-East Asia, a lot of those infections travel,” he said.
“And they travel in people’s stomachs, and they travel when people cough on a plane, so it’s a global issue.
“Antibiotic resistant bacteria will spread around the world.”
However, he said Australians can still do their bit to prevent superbugs, including decreasing the amount of antibiotics they consume.
“An interesting survey from the Australian Medical Association showed two-thirds of doctors would prescribe an antibiotic if the patient asked for one,” he said.
“So clearly listen to your GP and if you have a severe infection go to your GP, but don’t expect to have antibiotics.
“Quite often it’s the case that you have a virus infection instead, and the antibiotics won’t help you.
“In fact they can disrupt your gut flora which can lead to problems like Crohn’s disease. Antibiotics are a precious resource, and if we misuse them it can create problems down the track.”
Professor Cooper said proper hand washing was also important, especially in hospitals.
By Jessica Longbottom