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Knowledge about antibiotics varies greatly among EU countries

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Staff writer |
Doctor prescribing
European Commission poll   Use of antibiotics among the EU public

The European Commission monitors levels of public use of antibiotics and a new survey carried out by TNS Opinion & Social network in the 28 member states shows that the knowledge varies among countries.

Respondents were asked if it is true or false that antibiotics kill viruses. Just over four out of ten (43%) of those polled correctly replied that antibiotics do not kill viruses.

Just under half (46%) gave the incorrect answer (-3 percentage points), while more than one in ten (11%) Europeans could not answer the question, a proportion unchanged since 2013.

There are significant differences on this question at the country level. In nine countries, a majority of respondents correctly answered that antibiotics do not kill viruses.

In Sweden, almost three quarters (72%) of respondents gave the correct reply. In the other eight countries, where a majority of respondents gave a correct answer, the proportion ranges between 54% and 63%.

In 9 countries, less than a third (33%) of those polled gave the correct answer. Levels of knowledge are lowest in Greece (20%), followed by Bulgaria (26%), Latvia (26%) and Malta (27%).

Around one third (34%) of respondents say that they have taken antibiotics during the last year.

However, while nearly half of those polled in Malta (48%) and Spain (47%) answer positively, less than a quarter of those polled in Sweden (18%), the Netherlands (20%), Germany (23%) and Denmark (23%) have taken antibiotics in the course of the last year.

Almost all respondents (93%) say that they obtained their last course of antibiotics from their health care provider. By far the most common source of antibiotics was a medical prescription (73%), but a further 20% received antibiotics directly from a medical practitioner.

Notably, there is a persistent minority who still consume antibiotics without a prescription (4%) or use those left over from a previous course (2%).

In all countries, a substantial majority of respondents say they obtained antibiotics from a medical practitioner.

The lowest levels are found in Greece (79%), Romania (84%), Cyprus (86%), Latvia (87%), Bulgaria (87%) and Croatia (88%). In all other countries, more than nine in ten of those polled say they obtained antibiotics in this way, with the highest proportion found in Sweden (98%).

The most common responses among the listed options are bronchitis (18%, no change since 2013), flu (16%, down from 18% in 2013) and a sore throat (14%, up from 11% in 2013). There was also an increase in the proportion of respondents saying they took antibiotics for a fever (11%, compared with 7% in 2009).

The most common answer is non-specific, with over a fifth (23%, +2 percentage points compared to 2013) of those polled saying that they took antibiotics for reasons other than the list of options given to them.

Overall, one in seven (14%, +4 percentage points since 2013) of those taking antibiotics do so to treat both illnesses and symptoms, while one in three respondents (34%, -8) take them to treat illness alone, and more than one in four (28%, +2) to treat symptoms alone.

Respondents were asked if it is true or false that antibiotics are effective against cold and flu. Just over half (56%) of respondents gave the correct answer that antibiotics are not effective in these cases, an increase of 4 percentage points since 2013.

Just over a third (36%) gave the incorrect answer (-5 percentage points), while 8% could not give an answer (+1 percentage point).

The country-level distribution shows some similarities to that for the previous question. In 14 Member States, the proportion of respondents giving the correct answer to this question represents the majority. More than three quarters of respondents gave the correct answer in Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden (all 79%).

Respondents are least likely to answer the question correctly in Greece (30%), Bulgaria (34%) and Poland (34%).

Respondents were asked whether it was true or false that the unnecessary use of antibiotics makes them become ineffective. A large majority (84%) of those polled gave the correct answer that the overuse of antibiotics reduces their effectiveness.

Just under one in ten gave the wrong answer (8%). In every country except Italy and Hungary, more than three quarters of respondents know that unnecessary use of antibiotics makes them become ineffective. The proportion in Italy is much lower (58%), and a quarter (25%) of respondents in Italy cannot give an answer to this question, compared with 8% on average in the EU.

Almost all respondents in Sweden (98%), the Netherlands (96%) and Malta (95%) answered correctly, and at least nine in ten respondents gave correct answers in another 10 countries.

In all Member States, more than half of respondents answered correctly. The highest proportions are found in Finland (79%), Lithuania (77%), Austria, Estonia and Slovakia (all 76%). Respondents in Sweden (55%) and Italy (56%) express the lowest levels of knowledge.

In the case of Italy, this is consistent with the previous question, but the low level of knowledge in Sweden is in contrast to the other knowledge questions, where Sweden is among the highest ranked countries.

There is also some variation in the proportions who were unable to give an answer. This is highest in Denmark (29%) and Sweden (28%), and lowest in Slovakia (10%), Finland, Lithuania and Austri

Respondents were asked when they think you should stop taking antibiotics once you have begun a course of treatment.

More than four fifths (82%) correctly answered that you should only stop when you have taken all of the antibiotics as directed, while 15% say you can stop when you feel better. This is a new question that was not asked in previous surveys.

In six countries, at least nine in ten respondents say that you should only stop taking antibiotics when you have taken all of the prescribed dose as directed. Respondents are most likely to say this in the Netherlands (94%), Finland and Sweden (both 93%).

Respondents in Latvia are the least likely to say this (67%), followed by those in Lithuania (71%), Greece (71%), Bulgaria (72%), Cyprus (73%) and Poland (74%).

Respondents were asked if they remembered receiving any information about the unnecessary use of antibiotics in the last 12 months. Only a third (33%) of respondents say that they received such information. This is the same proportion as was recorded in 2013.

In Finland, around two thirds (68%) of respondents recall receiving information about the unnecessary use of antibiotics, and at least half of respondents recall getting information in Sweden (51%), Lithuania and France (both 50%).

However, in nine countries less than a quarter of respondents recall getting information about antibiotics. The lowest proportions are found in Italy (15%), Hungary (19%), Portugal and Denmark (both 20%).

Respondents are most likely to say that they received the information from a doctor (32%). This is by far the most common of professional sources; one in ten say that they got the information from a pharmacist (10%), while 6% say it was from another health professional.

Respondents see medical professionals or health care facilities as the most trustworthy sources of nformation.

More than four in five respondents (84%) identify doctors as an important source of information, while 37% would use a pharmacy to get trustworthy information, 19% would get information from a hospital, and 15% would visit an official health-related website.


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