The research, out of Bond University, found antibiotics were prescribed at rates four to nine times higher than recommended by national guidelines for these types of infections. This has the potential to lead to “antibiotic resistance”, making once treatable bacterial strains hard to cure.
“The potential for reducing rates of antibiotic prescription and to thereby reduced rates of antibiotic-related harms, particularly bacterial resistance, is therefore substantial,” the researchers added. “Our data provide the basis for setting absolute targets for reducing antibiotic prescribing in Australian general practice.”
Co-author of the study, Bond University Professor Paul Glasziou, said he believed doctors’ fears of missing serious illness contributed to the higher rates of antibiotics prescription, as well as patients’ expectations around antibiotics.
He pointed to Sweden, which previously had rates of antibiotic use similar to Australia, as a country which had successfully halved its antibiotic use.
“It shows that you could safely stay within the guidelines and drop the prescribing rate quite a lot,” he added.
Antibiotics quickly kill bacteria and prevent viruses from spreading through the body. However, when taken too often their effectiveness diminishes and viruses can become resistant. There are about 700,00 deaths every year from antimicrobial resistance and there are fears this number could blow out to 10 million annually by 2050.