THE PORTUGUESE are among the highest users of self-prescribed antibiotics within the European Union, according to a recent study. Also, Portugal ranks fourth in the antibiotic use league tables. There are calls for doctors to limit the use of such medicine to only those who really do need it.
Antibiotics only target bacterial infections and do not have the slightest effect on 80 per cent of common cold and flu symptoms which are caused by viruses. Even so, the Portuguese will often prescribe themselves and, alarmingly, some chemists will sell antibiotics over the counter without a doctor’s prescription.
“It’s a cultural problem with many patients asking their doctor for antibiotics and, if the doctor refuses, they just get them elsewhere,” says José Neves, a doctor of infectious diseases at Lisbon’s Hospital Santa Maria. “Anti-microbial medicine most prescribed are antibiotics and often they aren’t suitable for the complaint.”
Doctors warn that using antibiotics frequently and incorrectly can lead to bacterial resistance, making it difficult to treat serious infections when they occur.
Worryingly, 43 per cent of those questioned in a survey thought antibiotics would reduce the symptoms of a common cold, while 22 per cent believed one should take antibiotics for flu. Sixteen per cent get antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription and self medicate.