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Antibiotic tablets

Taking antibiotics when they are not necessary is a major concern, because it causes bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. This means that, in the future, we may not be able to find antibiotics that can cure serious illnesses. 

Recent research from Public Health England found that at least 20% of all antibiotics prescribed by GPs in the UK are likely to be inappropriate. Flu-like conditions and other respiratory conditions are the most common reasons for inappropriate prescribing. It is thought that antibiotics are often given unnecessarily because GPs think their patients expect them. 

An online survey of more than 2000 people in the UK found that nearly 40% said they would ask their doctor for antibiotics if they had flu-like symptoms that lasted for 5 days. These respondents also tended to believe that antibiotics would be effective for such symptoms and had low awareness of the problem of antibiotic resistance. The study was published in the current issue of Eurosurveillance

Lead author Laurence Roope  from the Health Economics Research Centre said “We found that providing information about unnecessary antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance might backfire, leading many people to actually be more likely to ask for antibiotics for flu-like symptoms so it is essential to carefully design and test messages about antibiotic use and resistance before using them in public health campaigns.” 

Most effective campaigns have tried to convey that antimicrobial resistance is a serious problem and to also explain that antibiotics are ineffective for respiratory infections. This survey did not include information about antibiotics being ineffective for respiratory infections. 

Co-author Sarah Wordsworth said “Our team are developing and testing new messages, in the hope that we can soon help people realise they can treat flu-like symptoms more effectively, and more safely, without antibiotics.”