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Tuesday, October 12, 1999 Published at 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK


Antibiotic confusion 'widespread'

The public do not understand how antibiotics work

Many people mistakenly believe that antibiotics can cure all minor illnesses, research has found.

Others fail to complete courses of medication despite medical advice to the contrary - increasing the likelihood that bacteria will develop antibiotic resistance.

Doctors accept that part of the problem is the willingness of some of their colleagues to dish out antibiotics inappropriately.

Bacterial effectiveness

Roger Odd and Dr Rosemary Leonard discuss why 'typical patients' demand antibiotics from their doctor
A survey commissioned by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) found that 55% of the 250 respondents wrongly thought antibiotics could cure all coughs, and 47% that they could cure all cases of flu and colds.

One in five thought antibiotics were a cure-all for sore throats and earache, and one in three that they could cure all stomach upsets.

In fact antibiotics are effective only against bacterial infection. Many minor illnesses are caused by viruses.

The survey also found that one in three people sometimes forget to take their tablets, while 16% of men and 8% of women admitted that they stopped taking the antibiotics if they began to feel better.

[ image: Antibiotics do not work against all colds]
Antibiotics do not work against all colds
Christine Glover, RPSGB president, said public misconceptions about antibiotics caused problems for patients and the NHS.

She said: "We know that people expect to be prescribed an antibiotic when they don't need one.

"This is clogging up doctors' surgeries, wasting the patient's time and vital NHS resources."

Mrs Glover said that the public's over-reliance on antibiotics and failure to complete courses of medication was also contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

The more bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the greater the chance that they will build up resistance to the drugs.

She said: "Although two in three people claim to be aware of antibiotic resistance, it is alarming that most people still expect to take them for minor illnesses and more than half have no idea that not finishing a prescribed course of antibiotics can contribute to the resistance problem.

"If we continue to pop antibiotics like sweets, the reality is that, when we really need them for what could be a life-threatening illness, there will be no effective antibiotics left to take."

'Long way to go'

Dr Simon Fradd, chairman of the Doctor Patient Partnership, said: "This survey just shows what a long way we have got to go to educate the public about this problem.

Dr Simon Fradd: "It will take a long time to change public opinion"
"But when you see the antibiotics that still get handed out inappropriately by doctors, then maybe we have to accept that we have to educate them as well."

Dr Fradd said part of the problem was that doctors varied tremendously in the amount of antibiotics they gave out.

For instance, one doctor would prescribe a single dose of antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, while another doctor would prescribe a course of drugs lasting for many months.

Dr Fradd said the issue should be examined by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

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