Negligent patients fuel the rise of the superbug

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 May, 2011, 12:00am


The number of patients ignoring instructions when they take antibiotics is causing major concern in Hong Kong as they risk making drug-resistant bugs even more dangerous, pharmacists have warned.

A study by the Queen Mary Hospital's department of pharmacy in January found that 20 per cent of about 200 chronically ill patients given medication did not take the prescribed dosage or finish the course.

Despite a series of public-education campaigns, the figure has not changed since a similar survey a decade ago.

William Chui Chun-ming, vice-president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists, said: 'We are concerned that patients do not complete their antibiotics courses, which makes the drug resistance problem even worse.'

Most antibiotics courses last at least five to seven days, but some people will take their drugs for two or three days only, he said.

'The 20 per cent non-compliance rate is the same as the one obtained by our previous survey 10 years ago. Although all along there is public education, it really takes a long time to see behavioural changes,' Chui said.

The department's findings are also in line with a Centre for Health Protection study on people's awareness of antibiotics.

While most of the 1,569 respondents said doctors had reminded them of the proper use of the medicine, only one in three recalled their doctors telling them that improper use would increase the chance of acquiring resistant bacteria. One in 10 respondents sometimes and 2.7 per cent never followed doctors' instructions in using antibiotics.

Among them, 53 per cent stopped taking antibiotics when they thought they had recovered, and about 31 per cent sometimes forgot to take the antibiotics.

Just 56 per cent had heard of resistant microbes or antimicrobial resistance.

President of Hong Kong Medical Association Dr Choi Kin said fewer patients were asking for antibiotics and a new generation of doctors tended to use fewer antibiotics.

The Centre for Health Protection has recently launched another campaign on proper use of antibiotics, including distributing pamphlets and posters to clinics.

'Many patients do not know the difference between bacterial and viral infection and wrongly believe that antibiotics can treat flu and almost all kinds of infections,' said Dr Andrew Wong Tin-yau, head of infection control at the centre. 'More public education is needed.'

Dr Ho Pak-leung, a University of Hong Kong microbiologist, said patients should always ask doctors why antibiotics were being prescribed.

Patients' rights association spokesman Tim Pang Hung-cheong said: 'Doctors should be the gatekeepers. They should not entertain patients' requests for antibiotics just to please them.'