Awareness of the consequences of antibiotics overuse in the EU

European CommissionOn 9 April the European Commission published two reports demonstrating the need for further progress in the European Union on the issue of anti microbial resistance. The first is a pan-European survey which reveals some worrying trends in public attitudes towards the use of antibiotics, while the second is a progress report on the 2002 Council Recommendation on the prudent use of antibiotics.

The second Eurobarometer report on Antimicrobial Resistance was carried out at the end of 2009 and follows on from a similar survey that was conducted in 2002 in the EU-15. The results indicate that citizens need more information on the correct use of antibiotics, even though 37% of respondents remember having received information on not overusing antibiotics in the last 12 months. The report is structured around 3 themes: our use of antibiotics, our perceptions regarding the use of antibiotics and an analysis of awareness raising efforts.

Use and perceptions

  • 40% of respondents say they have taken antibiotics in the past year, over a third took them for a viral infection like a cold or the flu;
  • 95% of these obtained them through a medical prescription and/or administration by a medical practitioner;
  • 53% of those surveyed think that antibiotics are able to kill viruses. This misconception is particularly common in the 15-24 age group;
  • However, 62% of those who received this information did not change their opinion on antibiotics.

EU and Member States actions
In 2001 the Council adopted a Recommendation on the prudent use of antimicrobial agents and a first progress report was presented in 2005. The second implementation report adopted on 9 April shows progress in several areas. All reporting countries have implemented a surveillance system for antimicrobial resistance and almost all respondents have national systems for the surveillance of antimicrobial use and antibiotic consumption. Furthermore:

  • eighteen countries report that the selling of antibiotics without a medical prescription was not a significant source of misuse of antibiotics;
  • several countries have added anti-microbial resistance in medical school curricula and some have launched awareness raising campaigns;
  • inter-sectoral cooperation in implementing the national strategies on the prudent use of antimicrobial agents (participation of the Ministries of Health, medicine agencies, hospital and ambulatory sectors, pharmacists, etc.) is increasing.

The report also highlights the need for improved collaboration between the human and animal health sectors. It says that advances need to be made in educating healthcare professionals and the general public on the appropriate use of antibiotics. Finally, the report points out that national strategies need to be further monitored and evaluated.

What Next?
The Commission is stepping up its action on antimicrobial resistance by increasing cooperation between its services, so that all aspects of this threat are addressed. In addition, the Commission will continue to raise awareness on the appropriate use of antibiotics by supporting the Member States and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in making European Antibiotic Awareness Day a success.

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