As a result of over-prescription and misuse of antibiotics, the prevalence of multi-drug resistant ‘superbugs’ is rising. Antibiotics are often demanded by patients and prescribed when they will be ineffective, for example for ‘flu and viruses. In some countries people are still able to obtain antibiotics without a medical prescription and failing to finish a complete course is a common problem which increases antibiotic resistance of bacteria. Educating patients and changing behaviour of health professionals is key to tackling this threat to health in Europe and worldwide.

“Government action to educate the public on when not to turn to antibiotics is long overdue,” commented Sascha Marschang, EPHA Policy Manager for Health Systems. “Many people mistakenly believe that antibiotics can be used to treat wide array of illnesses, including those by viruses like winter colds, or that they help relieve pain. This is a dangerous mistake. Apart from contributing to rendering the antibiotics ineffective, such behaviour can cause serious side effects and harm people. Antiobiotic resistant ‘superbugs’ are a pan-European and even global health threat where the World Health Organization (WHO), EU and national governments must act together.”

As well as educating the public to tackle demand for antibiotics, EPHA calls on national health ministries and health professionals to implement tighter controls on the supply of antibiotics only to treat conditions where they will be effective and to ensure patients are well informed of the importance of finishing the course and to stop uncontrolled access to antibiotics without prescription. Pharmacists play a key role in advising patients on the benefits of over-the-counter medicines that can relieve winter cold symptoms.

Moreover, it is important to reiterate that limiting the use of antibiotics is as important in animal health as it is in human health. Antimicrobials are still used in livestock production and to treat infectious diseases in animal husbandry. Humans and animals are closely connected via the food chain, and diseases can be spread to people (4). end

  • Notes to editors

(1) A leading initiative promoted by the European Centre for disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the 2014 European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) consists of a European-level launch event in Stockholm coupled with national campaigns in the Member States to spread the messages on the risks associated with self-medication.

(2) Bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics are considered multidrug resistant (MDR) or, more colloquially, ‘superbugs’. For example, types of drug resistance bacteria include MRSA methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, VRSA (vancomycin-resistant S. aureus), ESBL (extended spectrum beta-lactamase), VRE (vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus) and MRAB (multidrug-resistant A. baumannii)

(3) Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU - Action plan against the rising threats from Antimicrobial Resistance (COM -2011- 748)

(4) EPHA Briefing on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)

  • Contact

Mr Sascha Marschang, EPHA Policy Manager for Health Systems on +32 2 233 3883 or

[Press release] European Antibiotic Awareness Day: Fighting ‘superbugs’ to save lives

Last modified on November 18 2014.