Be medicinewise with antibiotics — save the pill for the really ill as it won't kill viruses

6 April 2011

Australians are being warned to be medicinewise with antibiotics this winter or risk not having antibiotics that work in the future.

NPS MedicineWise is joining the voices of the World Health Organization and ReAct Group to raise awareness of the ramifications of misusing antibiotics as part of World Health Day 2011 on 7 April.

Australians are estimated to be among the highest users of antibiotics in OECD countries. A report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found 14% of antibiotics prescribed in 2009-10 were for upper respiratory tract infections, which equates to about 3 million scripts.

“Some of these scripts are wasted as they are prescribed for common colds or influenza, which are caused by viruses – not bacteria. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and taking them for viruses won’t help you recover faster or relieve your symptoms,” NPS clinical adviser, Danielle Stowasser said.

“While antibiotics are a key treatment for many infections, we should only use them when it’s really necessary and not just in case. Some strains of bacteria that were once easily treated with antibiotics have now mutated and become resistant. In the long term, antibiotic resistance will reduce our capacity to treat infectious bacterial diseases.”

When antibiotics are required, it’s important they are taken as prescribed and the full course is finished.

“When antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial infections they sometimes aren’t used properly - either the course isn’t finished or the antibiotics aren’t taken as directed. This can also lead to bacteria mutations and resistance, so be medicinewise and take antibiotics as instructed until they are finished,” Dr Stowasser said.

NPS has run successful campaigns about antibiotic use in the past and launch a new campaign on antibiotic use in February 2012.

For more information about being medicinewise go to


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests.We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.