Misunderstanding about antibiotic resistance complicates global education efforts

Public health officials have their work cut out in trying to change the way people across the globe use antibiotics, according to a new survey by the World Health Organization.

The WHO survey asked people what they know about antibiotic resistance and the results show a tremendous amount of misconceptions about antibiotic use.

The findings were released this week as part of the WHO's new global campaign, Antibiotics: Handle with Care. The goal of the campaign is to stop the spread of antibiotic resistance and prevent the emergence of additional antibiotic-resistant bugs, the health organization said in an announcement. Efforts are aimed at policymakers, health and agricultural professionals as well as the public.

In surveys of 10,000 people in 12 countries, WHO discovered that:

  • Three-quarters think the body, not bacteria, becomes resistant to antibiotics
  • Two-thirds think people aren't at risk for a drug-resistant infection if they take their antibiotics as prescribed
  • Nearly two-thirds think antibiotics are effective in treating the colds and flu
  • One-third think they should stop taking antibiotics when they feel better rather than completing the prescribed course of treatment

Antibiotic resistance is "compromising our ability to treat infectious diseases and undermining many advances in medicine," Margaret Chan, M.D., WHO director general, said in the announcement. She called the rise of antibiotic resistance a global health crisis that is "reaching dangerously high levels in all parts of the world."

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is observing its Get Smart About Antibiotics Week by promoting efforts to get all U.S. hospitals to launch antibiotic stewardship programs, Only about 39 percent of hospitals have such programs, which systematically work to weed out antibiotic overuse and misuse, Hospitals & Health Networks reported.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria attack about 2 million people annually in the U.S. and kill at least 23,000, according to the CDC. Further, about half of antibiotic prescriptions each year are ineffective or not considered the best treatment for the condition, the CDC says.

A report from the British government last year warned that antibiotic-resistant infections will kill 10 million people per year worldwide by 2050 and rack up $100 trillion per year in treatment costs.

The United States leads in per capita consumption of antibiotics, according to a report issued earlier this fall by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy. The U.S. also is second only to China in consuming antibiotics in livestock, according to researchers, who also say that new antibiotics are useless if the world continues to misuse them.

To learn more:
- check out the WHO announcement
- read the summary of the WHO findings
- download the WHO survey
- see the H&HN article
- read about the CDC campaign

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