Antibiotics: Handle with Care; the theme of the first World Antibiotic Awareness Week, launched this week by the World Health Organization.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria adapt and become resistant to the antibiotics that are used to treat infections. Antibiotic resistance has occurred due to both the over-use and misuse of antibiotics.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), antibiotic resistance:
- Is currently one of the largest problems in global health
- Is a naturally occurring phenomenon, however is occurring more frequently due to misuse of antibiotics
- Has resulted in increasingly ineffective treatment for diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and gonorrhoea
- Results in greater health care costs, longer periods of hospital admissions, and increased mortality
This week the first World Antibiotic Awareness Week has been launched as part of a global action plan by the WHO. The aims of the campaign are to increase the awareness of the antibiotic resistance crisis in order to promote better practices in antibiotic use amongst health care professionals, policy makers, and patients. A series of factsheets, posters, and other materials are being provided by the WHO in an effort to increase awareness, and thus reduce the occurrence of antibiotic resistance.
As part of the action plan, a global survey was conducted to determine what people knew about antibiotic resistance. The survey consisted of 14 questions regarding antibiotic use and resistance, and was conducted in 12 countries, with approximately 10 000 respondents.
While the majority of respondents agree that antibiotic resistance is a problem, there is still confusion regarding why it occurs and what can be done to slow or stop it. The majority of respondents think that antibiotics are helpful to treat cold and flu, which is not the case, since antibiotics are not effective against viruses. In addition, over 30% of respondents think that once they begin to feel better, they should stop taking their antibiotic prescription. Again, this is a misconception, the entire course of antibiotics should be completed.
The global survey revealed several misconceptions still held among the general population, suggesting that campaigns such as the World Antibiotic Awareness Week could be used as a tool to increase people’s general understanding of antibiotic use and resistance.
WHO News Release: “WHO multi-country survey reveals widespread public misunderstanding about antibiotic resistance” Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/antibiotic-resistance/en/ Last Accessed: November 17, 2015.
WHO News Release: “Global action plan on antimicrobial resistance” Available from: http://www.who.int/drugresistance/global_action_plan/en/ Last Accessed: November 17, 2015.
WHO Fact Sheet: “Antibiotic resistance” Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/antibiotic-resistance/en/ Last Accessed: November 17, 2015.
Written by Deborah Tallarigo, PhD