Greece’s excessive use of antibiotics a threat to public health, say scientists

Greece is still first among European countries in the excessive use of antibiotics, a phenomenon which actually threatens public health, said Kyriaki Kanellakopoulou, professor of Infectious Diseases pathology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, during a press conference in Athens on Tuesday. 

She spoke on occasion of World Antibiotic Awareness Week, observed on November 18-24, which aims to increase global awareness of antibiotic resistance among the general public, health workers and policymakers to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.

Kanellakopoulou added that 68 pct of Greeks take antibiotics every year, compared to a mere 3 pct of people in Finland who do the same. 

Asked why Greeks take so many antibiotics, scientists say that in 70 pct of cases they use them to battle simple daily winter viruses that bring coughing, a sore throat and nasal congestion, symptoms that do not even require a physician’s help, “as they just buy them at the local chemist’s, without prescriptions,” said Kanellakopoulou.  

The alarming result of this over-consumption is the microbes’ high resistance to antibiotics, not only within hospitals but also in the broader community. 

According to scientists, the pneumococcal germ has gained a 40 pct resistance to antibiotics, so half of those infected by it will not be cured by them. Another set, coliform bacteria, commonly present in urinary tract infections, have gained a 15 pct resistance to antibiotics. 

The consequence of over-consumption is “ruining the antibiotical effect” and “raises germs’ resistance,” creating new strains that are passed on, noted Kanellakopoulou.

Antibiotics consumption should be reduced by a vertical 90 pct, as “we have to realize that there are no new antibiotics, so we have to survive and make do with what is currently available,” said Eleni Yammarellou, professor of pathology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, infectious diseases specialist and president of the Hellenic Society of Chemotherapy.

The president of the Medical Association of Athens, Attica Region Governor Giorgos Patoulis, said that strict fines should be imposed on chemists who dispense antibiotics without prescriptions and without the patient having first peformed a strep-test prior to seeking pharmaceuticals. 

Finally, and in contrast to the over-consumption of antibiotics in Greece, a 75 to 90 pct of people who die from flu annually have not been vaccinated, said Athanasios Skoutelis, coordinating Director at Evangelismos General Hospital’s Pathology Clinic, who added that “most of these deaths could have been prevented by vaccinations,” even though he did observe a recent rise in the demand for anti-flu vaccinations compared to previous years.

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