Cyprus Mail

Overuse of antibiotics gives way to superbugs

In Europe, infections of resistant microbes are associated with 25,000 deaths

By Poly Pantelides

THE health authorities are worried over the country’s multi-drug resistant infections, a consequence of its high and improper use of antibiotics, health minister Petros Petrides said this week.

He was speaking in the context of the European Antibiotic Awareness Day held every year on November 18, but overshadowed in Cyprus by the death of former President Glafcos Clerides a few days beforehand.

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics has fuelled an increase in drug-resistant infections and Cyprus has one of the highest rates of multi-drug resistant bacteria, or so-called superbugs, said minister Petrides. Some 47 per cent of Cypriots have taken antibiotics in the course of a year, well above the 35 per cent EU average, according to a Eurobarometer poll conducted for the European Commission in May and June.

The poll showed that more young people, aged between 15 and 24 took antibiotics, with 52 per cent saying they had taken antibiotics in the last 12 months compared with 38 per cent elsewhere in the EU. Nearly four out of five, or 84 per cent, were given a medical prescription although 10 per cent took antibiotics over the counter from a pharmacy, far above the 3.0 per cent EU average. Almost half of those asked believed antibiotics killed viruses, about 31 per cent wrongly took antibiotics for the flu and 24 per cent for a cold, even though antibiotics have no effect against either.

Antibiotics treat infections in animals and humans and have made infectious diseases less threatening than they used to be. They can be indispensable in procedures such as transplantation and chemotherapy. But health authorities across the world are warning that fewer and fewer antibiotics are still effective in treating common infections including those arising in hospital patients. Resistant bacteria can also be transferred from animals to humans via the food chain or through direct contact.

Cyprus was one of five countries which reported last year an above 5.0 per cent resistance of a kind of bloodstream infection to the most powerful known antibiotics, reserved by doctors as a last line of defence, the European Centre for Diseases Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a recent report.

The other countries were Greece, Italy, Romania and Slovakia. But Cyprus was ahead than most, reporting a resistance as far back as 2009 along with Greece.

This year, a national committee on antibiotics was set up comprising officials from the health ministry and the agriculture ministry, while the Cabinet also approved a national plan which includes better monitoring of superbugs and a commitment to reduce antibiotic use for surgery purposes.

“Immediate action is necessary to tackle this [problem],” Petrides said.

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