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.
In research just published in Eurosurveillance we used an online survey to ask more than 2,000 adults from the UK questions about their attitudes to antibiotics.
We found that nearly 40% of people would ask their doctor for antibiotics if they had flu-like symptoms that lasted for 5 days. Perhaps not surprisingly, these people tended to believe antibiotics would be effective for flu-like symptoms, and to have low awareness of the problem of antibiotic resistance. This suggests that well-designed public information campaigns about inappropriate antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance might help reduce antibiotic requests for flu-like symptoms.
However, our research 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. In fact, among people with low awareness of antibiotic resistance, many more said the information we provided would make them more likely – rather than less likely – to ask for antibiotics.
Our findings suggest that it is essential to carefully design and test messages about inappropriate antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance before using them in public health campaigns. Our team are therefore 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.
The full article can be accessed at: https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2018.23.25.1700424
Contribution by Laurence Roope and Sarah Wordsworth (co-authors)
This work was supported by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Healthcare Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance at the University of Oxford and in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) [grant number HPRU-2012-10041].