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Brussels, 9 April 2010

Almost 40% of Europeans are aware of the issue of overuse of antibiotics, says a survey

Today, the Commission publishes two reports which demonstrate the need for further progress in the European Union on the issue of anti microbial resistance. The first is a pan-European survey which reveals some worrying trends in public attitudes towards the use of antibiotics. The results indicate that citizens need more information on the correct use of antibiotics, even though 37% of respondents remember having received information on not overusing antibiotics in the last 12 months. The second document is a progress report, adopted today, on the 2002 Council Recommendation on the prudent use of antibiotics. The report shows that good progress has been made in several areas. -

"Antibiotics brought about a revolution in medicine: thanks to them we can treat bacterial infections and save lives. However, the overuse of antibiotics in people and animals has lead to the emergence of antibiotic resistant organisms ", said John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health & Consumer Policy. The commissioner added : "This means that misuse of antibiotics undermines their effectiveness in the longer term and that we must continue to raise awareness amongst our citizens about the risks of improper use of antibiotics".

This second Eurobarometer report on Antimicrobial Resistance was carried out at the end of 2009 and follows on from a similar survey that was conducted in 2002 in the EU-15. The report is structured around 3 themes: our use of antibiotics, our perceptions regarding the use of antibiotics and an analysis of awareness raising efforts.

Antibiotics: use and perceptions

  • 40% of respondents say they have taken antibiotics in the past year, over a third took them for a viral infection like a cold or the flu

  • 95% of these obtained them through a medical prescription and/or administration by a medical practitioner.

  • 53% of those surveyed think that antibiotics are able to kill viruses. This misconception is particularly common in the 15-24 age group.

  • However, 62% of those who received this information did not change their opinion on antibiotics.

EU and Member States actions

In 2001 the Council adopted a Recommendation on the prudent use of antimicrobial agents and a first progress report was presented in 2005. The second implementation report adopted today shows progress in several areas. all reporting countries having implemented a surveillance system for antimicrobial resistance and almost all respondents have national systems for the surveillance of antimicrobial use and antibiotic consumption.

  • eighteen countries report that the selling of antibiotics without a medical prescription was not a significant source of misuse of antibiotics.

  • several countries have added anti-microbial resistance in medical school curricula; some have launched awareness raising campaigns.

  • increasing inter-sectoral cooperation in implementing the national strategies on the prudent use of antimicrobial agents (participation of the Ministries of Health, medicine agencies, hospital and ambulatory sectors, pharmacists, etc)

The report also highlights the need for improved collaboration between the human and animal health sectors. It says that advances need to be made in educating healthcare professionals and the general public on the appropriate use of antibiotics. Finally, the report points out that national strategies need to be further monitored and evaluated.

What Next?

The Commission is stepping up its action on antimicrobial resistance by increasing cooperation between its services, so that all aspects of this threat are addressed. In addition, the Commission will continue to raise awareness on the appropriate use of antibiotics by supporting the Member States and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in making European Antibiotic Awareness Day a success.


Antimicrobial agents are used to kill or inhibit the growth of micro-organisms. Their introduction prompted a revolution in public health by reducing the threat posed by previously untreatable and frequently fatal infectious diseases (e.g. Tuberculosis). These gains are now jeopardized by the emergence of resistant microbes, mainly due to inappropriate use of antimicrobial agents.

In 2001 the Council adopted a Recommendation on the prudent use of antimicrobial agents in human medicine. The Recommendation called upon the Commission and the Member States to develop and implement strategies to fight the spread of antimicrobial resistance. The strategies included in the Recommendation involve the development of surveillance systems, control measures, education training and awareness raising campaigns.

In November 2009, the Commission adopted a staff working paper outlining EU action in terms of monitoring antimicrobial resistance and its risk assessment and management.

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