Widespread public misunderstanding about antibiotic resistance: WHO

As the World Health Organization (WHO ramps up its fight against antibiotic resistance, a new multi-country survey shows people are confused about this major threat to public health and don’t understand its prevention


Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change and become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Over-use and misuse of antibiotics increase the development of resistant bacteria, and this survey points out some of the practices, gaps in understanding and misconceptions which contribute to this phenomenon.

Almost two thirds (64 percent) of some 10 000 people who were surveyed across 12 countries say they know antibiotic resistance is an issue that could affect them and their families, but how it affects them and what they can do to address it are not well understood. For example, 64 percent of respondents believe antibiotics can be used to treat colds and flu, despite the fact that antibiotics have no impact on viruses. Close to one third (32 percent) of people surveyed believe they should stop taking antibiotics when they feel better, rather than completing the prescribed course of treatment.

"The rise of antibiotic resistance is a global health crisis, and governments now recognize it as one of the greatest challenges for public health today. It is reaching dangerously high levels in all parts of the world," says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, in launching the survey findings today. "Antibiotic resistance is compromising our ability to treat infectious diseases and undermining many advances in medicine."

The survey findings coincide with the launch of a new WHO campaign ‘Antibiotics: Handle with care'-a global initiative to improve understanding of the problem and change the way antibiotics are used.

The conclusions from India were drawn on the basis of 1,023 online interviews:
• More than three quarters (76 percent) of respondents report having taken antibiotics within the past six months; 90 percent say they were prescribed or provided by a doctor or nurse.
• Three quarters (75 percent) of respondents think, incorrectly, that colds and flu can be treated with antibiotics; and only 58 percent know that they should stop taking antibiotics only when they finish the course as directed.
• While 75 percent agree that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest problems in the world, 72 percent of respondents believe experts will solve the problem before it becomes too serious.

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