Too Many Expect Antibiotics

In Australia we’re still expecting - and getting - too many antibiotics

Australians are once again being urged to stop expecting antibiotics for viruses such as colds and flu.

This is in light of new findings released in June that show antimicrobial use in the community in Australia is higher than in England, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands - and that the number of antimicrobials being prescribed in Australia continues to grow.

The first AURA (Antimicrobial Use and Resistance in Australia) Report includes NPS MedicineWise MedicineInsight data from 182 doctors’ practices. The data shows that, where an antibiotic was prescribed and a reason given for that prescription, up to 50% of patients who had a cold or upper respiratory tract infection had an antibiotic prescribed when it wasn’t actually needed.

NPS MedicineWise CEO Dr Lynn Weekes welcomed the AURA Report as the first report of its kind to give a nationally coordinated overview of antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance, but expressed concern at the data that proves many common misconceptions continue to persist around the use of antibiotics for viral infections like ordinary colds and flu.

“When we are facing a future where antibiotics may no longer work when we need them, this data is crucial in helping health professionals, policy makers and consumers alike to understand that they each play a part in making sure these life-saving medicines continue to work both now and in the future,” she said.

Another recent survey of 1000 Australians reveals that four in ten people (38%) who went to the doctor last time they or their child had a cold or flu expected a prescription for antibiotics.

The main reasons respondents gave as to why they would ask their doctor for antibiotics when they had a cold or flu were:

  • they just hate being sick (21%)
  • they believe that antibiotics help you get over cold or flu more quickly (17%)
  • they cannot afford to take time off work (11%)
  • their family relies on them, they don’t have time to be sick (11%).

“With data showing that antimicrobial prescribing is highest during winter, it’s timely for us to again address common misconceptions that unfortunately seem to persist about appropriate use of antibiotics during cold and flu season,” said Dr Weekes.

“One misconception in particular that needs to be overcome is the mistaken belief that antibiotics help you get over a cold or flu more quickly: they don’t.

“Colds, flu and most coughs are caused by viruses. Antibiotics only work on infections caused by bacteria, not those caused by viruses.”

The good news is that of those who did visit a doctor last time they had a cold or flu, 44% of people were expecting advice about how to manage their or their child’s cold or flu symptoms.

Dr Weekes urged people who came down with cold or flu this winter to not ask for antibiotics and to let their doctor know that they only wanted antibiotics if truly necessary. It was crucial for individuals to become aware that steps they took each winter could make a difference in helping reduce antibiotic resistance in the community.

"The reality is that because of their overuse and misuse, antibiotics are losing their power.

“But individuals, through their own actions and choices, can be part of the solution by managing ordinary colds and flu without antibiotics,” said Dr Weekes.

“The new AURA Report should be a wake-up call to individuals as well as health professionals to remind us to work together to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance.”

To find out more about antibiotic resistance and what you can do for coughs, colds and flu this winter go to www.nps.org.au/coldandflu