More than 30 million antibiotic prescriptions are dispensed in Australia each year. In 2015, around 45 per cent of Australians were prescribed at least one course of antibiotics — many of these unnecessary.
“Antibiotics have been a wonder drug since their discovery in the late 1920s and have saved countless lives,” said NPR MedicineWise medical adviser and GP Dr Yoo.
But unrealistic expectations about antibiotics are contributing to the global health threat of antibiotic resistance, and these expectations are contributing to the overuse of antibiotics — and the more antibiotics are misused, the greater the problem of antibiotic resistance.
“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,” she said.
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, she continued, with NPS MedicineWise consumer surveys showing 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,” she said.
“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. [We urge] people who do seek medical care for their illness to go to their health professional with an open mind, without the expectation that you will necessarily need antibiotics.”