Beware the antibiotics
by Maria Zachariadi, A’4 L
When antibiotics are used incorrectly, the likelihood that bacteria will adapt, developing resistance, is greatly enhanced. Bacteria are particularly efficient at enhancing the effects of resistance, not only because of their ability to multiply very rapidly but also because bacteria can pass information to each other through ‘plasmid exchange’, whereby plasmids carrying resistant genes jump from one bacteria to another. Resistance to a single drug can thus spread rapidly through a bacterial population, leading to an increasing prevalence of dangerous multi-drug resistant infections. Recent research from Public Health England found that at least 20% of all antibiotics prescribed by doctors 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 doctors think their patients expect them. In research just published in Eurosurveillance, they used an online survey to ask more than 2,000 adults from the UK questions about their attitudes to antibiotics. They 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.