CAPE TOWN- South Africans are abusing antibiotics by taking them too often or unnecessarily, according to a survey among almost 400 medical doctors and 160 pharmacists.

Such misuse is leading to increasing resistance by bacteria to antibiotics, pushing up costs and effective treatment.

The survey shows that 93% of the medical doctor respondents and 96% of pharmacist respondents believe South Africans take antibiotics too frequently.

The survey showed South Africans took antibiotics for colds, flu and viral infections.

The PPS Graduate Professional Index conducted the survey as a financial services provider focused on graduate professionals

The executive of medical standards and services at PPS, Dr Dominique Stott, said the results could be partly due to increased consumer pressure on medical practitioners to prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily for conditions like colds, flu and viral infections.

“There is a current consumer trend where a patient arrives at the doctor’s rooms having already researched their symptoms on Google and believes that an antibiotic will cure their condition,” Stott said.

She said the over-consumption of antibiotics resulted in an increased number of people developing resistance against them. She said sometimes antibiotics were not used correctly.

“This includes not completing the course, not taking the medication at the correct time intervals or failing to take it with or without food, as indicated.

“However, over-consumption of antibiotics can enable the development of resistance even when the medication is taken correctly.

“Nowadays, consumers tend to believe that a doctor’s consultation was not taken seriously by the medical professional if the patient leaves without antibiotics,” she said.

Patients needed to understand and accept that it was not about how much medicine was prescribed, but rather about getting the right medicine to fight the infection, which in some instances might be no medication at all, Stott said.

“As bacteria become resistant to current antibiotics, pharmaceutical companies need to develop new antibiotics to counter the new strains of bacteria.

“These new antibiotics are much more expensive to develop and the current rate of bacterial resistance development is fast outpacing the rate at which new drugs to counter the bacteria can be developed, which will place immense pressure on the healthcare system,” she said.

“Healthcare costs are already expensive but should more consumers develop antibiotic resistance, costs will soar even more significantly. New antibiotics are already expensive and as many patients may require hospitalisation, complications are more likely to develop during a lengthy hospitalisation period.” .

World Antibiotic Awareness Week was from November 14 to 20. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said resistance to antibiotics was compromising doctors’ ability to treat infectious diseases.