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08 Jul 2014

Widespread ignorance about the causes and treatment of colds and influenza may be contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance, according to the Federal Government’s chief advisor on the safe use of medicines.

Commonwealth agency NPS MedicineWise has commissioned research showing that 65 per cent of workers – including 71 per cent of those aged between 18 and 34 years – mistakenly believe that antibiotics help cure colds and the flu, a disturbing result that raises the prospect of widespread inappropriate use of medicines whose effectiveness is under threat from over-prescribing and overuse.

NPS MedicineWise clinical adviser Dr Andrew Boyden said the research, conducted by pollster Galaxy Research, showed that many people mistakenly believed that antibiotics – which are only effective for bacterial infections – were useful in treating viral infections like colds and influenza, potentially contributing to antibiotic resistance.

“Using antibiotics when they’re not needed, like for colds and flu, is contributing to antibiotic resistance,” Dr Boyden said. “This is making bacterial infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis harder to treat, with potentially dire consequences.”

Rising antibiotic resistance has been identified as a major global threat to health. There has been a proliferation of bacterial infections resistant to multiple antibiotics. This has coincided in a slowdown in the development of new drugs, leading to warnings that in future many people will die from relatively simple infections because antibiotics have been rendered impotent.

In addition to misconceptions regarding the use of antibiotics, the Galaxy poll also found that most (94 per cent) of employees have gone to work with a cold or flu, 41 per cent believe they have caught the infection using public transport and 42 per cent think have a cold or flu because they have got cold, wet or have caught a chill.

“You can’t catch a cold or flu from the weather, yet many Australian workers seem to believe that they have had a cold or flu from getting cold, wet or catching a chill,” Dr Boyden said. “Colds and flu are viral infections that are spread from person to person, so good hygiene is paramount.

Dr Boyden said people with a cold or flu should stay at home when unwell, use a tissue when coughing or sneezing, wash their hands after coughing or blowing their nose, avoid sharing cups or cutlery and keep household surfaces clean.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 08 Jul 2014