The Korea Herald

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Knowing the facts on antibiotics

By 배지숙

Published : April 7, 2011 - 18:52

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More than half of Koreans still believe penicillin can treat colds


There was a time when antibiotics were used as “magic drugs” to cure any illness or disorder. From treatments for small inflammations to coughing, people wanted antibiotics.

But antimicrobials are often associated with various side effects and invite resistance ― some diseases such as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis are now untreatable as a result.

The recent news of the pan-drug resistant NDM-1 enzyme having infected four patients in a hospital near Seoul has elevated public fears over super bacteria that cannot be eliminated.

“The more we use antimicrobials, the more our body searches for a way to get over them. It takes over a decade for humans to develop an antibiotic drug but it needs only a year for a resistance to be detected,” Dr. Walter Wilson of Mayo Clinic said Wednesday at a press conference to mark the Asia Pacific Foundation for Infectious Diseases’ hosting the International Symposium on Antimicrobial Resistance. 

Wilson noted that meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, for instance, had killed 19,000 in 2005 in the U.S., far higher than the number of people who died of AIDS and tuberculosis. He warned that at any given moment there are several enzymes of such a kind.

Despite decades of public campaigns and government regulations to lessen their usage, about 55 percent of clinics in Korea still prescribe antibiotics for ailments such as simple colds.

In a survey by the Korea Food and Drug Administration and the APFID of 1,000 adults nationwide, 72 percent were aware of the side effects of antimicrobials but 51 percent still believed that taking antibiotics was effective. About 28 percent took antibiotics kept at home.

Dr. Song Jae-hoon of Samsung Medical Center and founder of APFID said that doctors’ over-prescription of antibiotics stems from patients and their guardians blindly believing that antibiotics are good. “It is important for people to understand about resistance created from abuse of antibiotics. It is a serious threat to mankind,” he said.

“It is important to understand that unnecessary use of antimicrobials could lead to various troubles,” he added.

Currently, the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service discloses the amount of antibiotics prescribed per clinic or hospital. A smartphone application is on the market to help people find hospitals nearby that refrain from prescribing unnecessary antimicrobials. The APFID is also planning to hold a worldwide campaign against over prescribing antimicrobials.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)