the dangers of misusing antibiotics

The consumption of antibiotics is on the rise again in France in 2021, especially among children under 4 years old.

The French still consume too many antibiotics, warns a report from Public Health France. The risk of misuse is to create resistance to bacteria, the cause of more than 5,500 deaths each year.

The abuse of antibiotics is dangerous for health. Excessive or incorrect consumption of these drugs promotes antibiotic resistance, responsible for 5,543 deaths per year in France, according to a study by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. On the occasion of the World Week for the Good Use of Antibiotics, which takes place from November 18 to 24, Public Health France, the Ministry of Health and Prevention and Health Insurance are launching a prevention campaign “Antibiotics: to take good care of oneself, it is first of all to use them well”.

Bronchitis, laryngitis, sore throat, flu… We take stock of the usefulness of antibiotics with Dr Anne Berger-Carbonne, microbiologist and head of the healthcare-associated infections and antibiotic resistance unit at Public Health France.

Antibiotics, effective against bacterial diseases

Antibiotic drugs work either by preventing bacteria from growing or by killing them. There are several families (penicillins, quinolones, macrolides, etc.) and each of them is only effective against a specific bacterium or family of bacteria. They can thus be the subject of a medical prescription against diseases of bacterial origin such as:

  • cystitis

  • Bacterial pneumonia

  • Bacterial angina

  • bacterial meningitis

  • Boil or abscess

  • Acute pyelonephritis

To limit the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance, “the duration of treatment must be scrupulously respected, insists Dr. Anne Berger-Carbonne. The remaining drugs must be returned to the pharmacy and they must never be reused for oneself or for those close to them, even if the symptoms are similar.”

Antibiotics, useless against viral infections

Antibiotics, on the other hand, have no effect on infections caused by a virus such as:

According to a report by Public Health France published on November 2, nearly one in two French people think that it is recommended to take antibiotics for a sore throat and that antibiotics allow you to get back on your feet faster. However, 80% of angina are viral and antibiotics do not act on symptoms such as cough, fever or headache. “The consumption of antibiotics does not allow you to recover faster from a viral infection, which heals naturally in one to two weeks, specifies Dr Anne Berger-Carbonne. When you have an infection of the ENT sphere, you rest at home and we take antipyretics (paracetamol for example, editor’s note) against fever for example.

“Antibiotic resistance could become one of the main causes of death in the world”

In its report, Public Health France is concerned about the increase in the prescription of antibiotics in 2021, particularly among children aged 0 to 4, after a drop observed in 2020. “Around 700 prescriptions of antibiotics per 1,000 inhabitants were carried out in France this year, excluding hospitalization”, underlines the doctor.

Inappropriate or incorrect use has contributed to the development and spread of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, called antibiotic resistance. It occurs when a bacterium develops defense mechanisms, reducing or canceling the action of antibiotics. “If antibiotic overuse habits are not stopped, antibiotic resistance could become one of the leading causes of death worldwide,” notes the Ministry of Health. According to a study by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, this resistance would cause nearly 5,500 deaths each year in France.

“Antibiotic resistance could lead to complications due to bacterial infections that were previously easy to treat, longer and more difficult illnesses to treat and the use of more powerful drugs to achieve treatment,” explains Dr Berger-Carbonne. Antibiotic resistance can also lead to more risks during surgeries in the event of antibiotic resistance.

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