01.12.2018 Community

Do you really need an antibiotic?

Antibiotic resistance demands a rethink of our expectations

Australians are still overusing antibiotics with more than 30 million antibiotic prescriptions dispensed each year. In 2015 around 45% of Australians were prescribed at least one course of antibiotics—many of them unnecessary.

The overuse is driven by unrealistic expectations and in the process contributing to the global health threat of antibiotic resistance.

Highlighting the extent of the problem, NPS MedicineWise medical adviser and GP Dr Jeannie Yoo urged the community as a whole to face up to the issue rather than blaming any one group.

“Antibiotics have been a wonder drug since their discovery in the late 1920s, and have saved countless lives,” said Dr Yoo.

“However, this precious resource is also a limited one. The more antibiotics are misused and overused, the less effective they become—and the less we are able to treat very serious bacterial infections.

“Rather than place the blame with any individual or group, it’s important to acknowledge that slowing the march of antibiotic resistance is a shared responsibility amongst both consumers and health professionals.”

Despite antibiotics not being effective against common coughs, colds and flu, antibiotics are being prescribed for these conditions at up to nine times the recommended rate.

NPS MedicineWise consumer surveys have also shown there’s a discrepancy between how long a parent expects their child to be sick when they have an upper respiratory tract infection versus the average duration of the symptoms.

“People, and especially parents can underestimate how long a typical upper respiratory tract infection like a cold or earache can last—but providing you or your child are otherwise well and improving, antibiotics generally aren’t needed to treat these conditions,” said Dr Yoo.

“For GPs, understanding people’s motives in seeking medical care and their expectation of being prescribed antibiotics is an important basis for an open and reassuring conversation.

The organisation is urging people who seek treatment for an illness to go to their health professional with an open mind, without the expectation that they will necessarily need antibiotics.

NPS MedicineWise works with health professionals and consumers to better inform all Australians, with the ultimate aim of reducing inappropriate antibiotic prescribing and helping stop the spread of antibiotic resistance.