Children with persistent ear infections and patients suffering recurring kidney disease are among the casualties of Australians' love affair with antibiotics.
They are suffering the effects of what many patients don't worry about until it hits: antibiotic resistance.
Prescribing expert Janette Randall says recent research shows just one dose of antibiotics significantly raises the risk of resistance and subsequent difficulties in recovering from infections. ''The impact on us as individuals has not been appreciated properly,'' said Dr Randall, who chairs the National Prescribing Service.
What patients prescribed an antibiotic failed to realise was that the dose made them twice as likely to develop resistance to the drug within their own body.
Australians' heavy use of antibiotics has prompted the prescribing service to launch a multi-media campaign to reduce unnecessary use in a country where 22 million scripts for the drugs are dispensed annually.
I have patients now for whom there is virtually no oral antibiotic left to treat their infection, so they are ending up in hospital.
Dr Randall said among the frequent victims of resistance were children with chronic earache. ''You get these kids with recurrent ear infections, every time they present you know they have got a burst ear drum, or ones that are about to burst.
''They are in terrible pain so we give them antibiotics. And then a month later they are back. We give them antibiotics again. This time it doesn't work, so we give them a stronger antibiotic and on it goes.''
Another group was chronically ill patients with recurring kidney and bladder infections, whose treatment generated high risk of resistance. ''I have patients now for whom there is virtually no oral antibiotic left to treat their infection, so they are ending up in hospital.''
Dr Randall told the National Press Club the world faced a return to the plight of pre-modern medicine. ''Infections from something as simple as a scratch have the potential to kill and where common illnesses once again become serious or untreatable and carry a higher risk of complications and death''.
Asked if doctors should be better at resisting pleas for antibiotics, Dr Randall said: ''Probably. I am guilty of that as well. We have therapeutic relationships with our patients. It is not always easy to tell people that they can't have what they want.''
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