Antibiotics & flu: recipe for disaster

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

November 9th, 2011

Gary Finnegan

Recipe-for-disasterAs flu seasons kicks off, the European Parliament has passed a parliamentary resolution urging doctors not to prescribe antibiotics for respiratory tract illnesses suspected to be viral (“colds”), amid fears that microbial-resistance bacteria are on the rise.

Seasonal influenza can be prevented by vaccination. Antibiotics have no effect on the flu virus so incorrect use of antibiotics is fuelling concerns that bacterial supra-infections will become increasingly difficult to treat.

The World Health Organisation used this year’s World Health Day to warn that misuse of antibiotics would lead to a return to the pre-antibiotic era, a message that will be repeated during European Antibiotic Awareness Day on November 18.

The warning comes as European governments embark on seasonal flu vaccination campaigns. Public health experts worry that bacteria have been quick to adapt to existing antibiotics, while the pipeline of new antimicrobials has run dry.

Read: Europe embarks on seasonal flu vaccination campaigns

Policymakers are looking at new ways to incentivise the development of novel antibiotics because investment in this area has slowed to a trickle.

In the meantime, public authorities are working to remind doctors that patients with symptoms of a ”cold” should not be treated with antibiotics, while patients are also urged not to expect an antibiotic unless their doctor suspects a bacterial infection.

The European Commission has stepped up its campaign against imprudent use of antibiotics while the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issues regular reminders that antibiotics are not effective in controlling influenza or respiratory tract infections suspected of being colds.

Read: Seasonal flu: an annual health threat