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Handle antibiotics with care: Antibiotic Awareness Week 2015

17 November, 2015

New figures released on 16 November 2015 by NPS MedicineWise show that while fewer people are now asking for antibiotics when they have a cold or flu, many still mistakenly believe that antibiotics will assist in recovery from a cold or flu.

The latest survey* of 2,581 people aged 16 years and over by NPS MedicineWise showed that 13% of people would ask their doctor for antibiotics when they had a cold or flu, down from 17% last year.

When asked whether antibiotics would help them recover from a cold or flu, more than a quarter (28%) incorrectly stated that they would help them recover, and another 36% gave a 'don't know' or neutral response.

The findings have been released for the global Antibiotic Awareness Week (16-22 November 2015). The week focuses attention across the globe on the problem of antibiotic resistance—this is when antibiotics lose their power to treat infections because bacteria become resistant to their effects. Misuse and overuse of antibiotics is a key driver of antibiotic resistance.

NPS MedicineWise CEO Dr Lynn Weekes says that this Antibiotic Awareness Week, individuals and health professionals around the world are being called upon to 'handle antibiotics with care' and to only use antibiotics when they are really needed.

"It has become entrenched in our society's thinking that antibiotics are an infinite resource, but unless we dramatically reduce antibiotic prescribing when they're not needed, we are looking to a future where they may no longer work when they are really needed," says Dr Weekes.

"Antibiotics don't work at all on viruses like those that cause colds and flu and taking antibiotics when they're not effective can contribute to antibiotic resistance, meaning they may not work for you when you need them in the future.

"However, there are simple steps that health professionals and individuals can take to ensure they use antibiotics appropriately. For health professionals this means adhering to best practice prescribing guidelines. For individuals in the community it is important not to pressure your doctor for antibiotics when you have a cold or flu, where antibiotics are not effective and can be harmful."

The good news from the latest NPS MedicineWise survey is that 75% of people know that taking antibiotics for colds and flu will contribute to antibiotics becoming less effective in the future, and two-thirds (67%) know it puts them at risk of developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

"The more antibiotics are used, the more chances bacteria have to become resistant to them, which can then make bacterial infections much harder to treat when you do have one," says Dr Weekes.

"Although antibiotic resistance is an issue right here, right now in Australia—with some strains of golden staph and gonorrhoea already resistant to multiple antibiotics—most people don’t see it as a current problem that could impact them personally."

More than a quarter (27%) of survey respondents think antibiotic resistance will affect them in 10 years, while almost half of respondents said they weren’t sure when it would affect them. Only 1 in 10 respondents (11%) believed that antibiotic resistance was affecting them or their family now.

"Antibiotic-resistant infections are not just seen in hospitals, agriculture and countries overseas, or a problem to deal with in the future. Antibiotic resistance is already affecting individuals in the Australian community, but by understanding how these lifesaving medicines work, handling them with care, and practising good hygiene, we can begin to turn the tide against antibiotic resistance."

This Antibiotic Awareness Week, individuals and health professionals are being urged to pledge to fight against antibiotic resistance. To view the pledge go to www.nps.org.au/jointhefight.

A suite of Antibiotic Awareness Week resources, including a campaign toolkit, posters, a social media guide, videos and infographics are available to download and share at www.nps.org.au/aaw.

*The national survey of 2,581 consumers aged 16 years and over was conducted online by NPS MedicineWise in August and September 2015.

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