Health and wellness

Hong Kong family doctors get drug guidelines in war on superbugs

Study shows medics in private sector are more likely to give out antibiotics to treat coughs

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 November, 2017, 10:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 9:24pm

Family doctors in Hong Kong have for the first time been issued with guidelines on the proper use of antibiotics, part of efforts to combat the spread of superbugs resistant to the drugs.

The Centre for Health Protection took the action after a study found private doctors were more likely than those in the public sector to prescribe antibiotics to treat coughs.

In another government survey, more than half of people questioned mistakenly believed that antibiotics could treat colds and flu.

The guidelines, part of the newly launched Antibiotic Stewardship Programme in Primary Care, cover three common types of infections: acute pharyngitis – inflammation of the throat; acute bladder inflammation in women; and simple skin and soft tissue infections.

The recommendations cover types of antibiotics, dosage and prescription duration.

“These are some common cases requiring use of antibiotics,” said Dr Angus Chan Ming-wai, chairman of the Advisory Group on Antibiotic Stewardship in Primary Care, which helped draft the guidelines.

“We hope medical workers can reduce the abusive use of antibiotics and thus lower the chances of drug resistance.”

Chan said around 70 per cent of primary health care services were provided by private doctors. While the overall abusive use of antibiotics was not severe in the city, Chan cited a study published last year showing that 17.4 per cent of patients seeing private doctors were given antibiotics for coughs, in contrast to 1.6 per cent for those under public doctors.

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“The guidelines are not going to help just doctors but also patients,” Chan said. “We can use those guidelines to explain to patients why antibiotics are being used or why antibiotics are not suitable for some illnesses.”

Chan said the group would review and launch guidelines for other infections.

While the guidelines were not mandatory, Chan believed doctors would follow the recommendations, which were based on the latest data and findings.

Drug advice for family doctors and revised guidelines for hospitals on medication against microorganisms were part of efforts in support of World Antibiotic Awareness Week. The campaign, initiated by the World Health Organisation, began on Monday and runs until Sunday.

Overuse of antibiotics is an international concern as it has led to the rise of superbugs, increasing treatment failure and death rates among patients.

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Dr Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, worried that superbugs could spread more easily in hospitals during flu seasons when staff struggle to cope with extra patients.

Dr Lilian Wong Hiu-lei, a paediatrician who runs a private clinic, said the guidelines were useful as a reference but she felt public education on proper use of antibiotics was also necessary.

She said specialists in paediatrics were usually careful in prescribing such drugs to children.

Dr Ken Ng Ho-leung, a consultant on antimicrobial resistance at the Centre for Health Protection, said it had commissioned a phone survey to understand public perceptions on the problem of drug resistance.

The survey, conducted from late last year to early this year, interviewed 1,255 Hongkongers aged 15 or older. While close to 70 per cent were aware of the superbug problem, 54 per cent wrongly thought antibiotics could treat colds and flu.

Some 98 per cent agreed they would find it acceptable for doctors not to prescribe antibiotics if a thorough explanation had been provided.

Another microbiologist, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, said last week it was “horrifying” that almost half of the interviewees in the same survey said they had taken antibiotics in the past 12 months.