For implementation of the National Strategy on Antibiotic Resistance (StAR), it is important to understand how the population uses antibiotics, what they know about them and whether their attitudes change over time. Once again this year, DemoSCOPE therefore conducted a representative telephone survey of the Swiss population on behalf of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). As in 2016 and 2018, some 1,000 people were asked about their knowledge of and attitudes to antibiotics, and how they use them.
How antibiotics are used
Within the last twelve months, a fifth of the Swiss population has taken antibiotics in the form of tablets, powder or syrup. This proportion has remained steady over time. However, compared with previous surveys, antibiotic consumption in Ticino has fallen from 33% in 2016 to 17% in 2020. It is not entirely clear whether this result is due to the small sample size, or whether fewer antibiotics were actually taken in Ticino.
Respondents received the antibiotic treatments from their doctor or on medical prescription from a pharmacy. Other sources were very rare.
This year, respondents were asked whether a laboratory test was carried out to identify the pathogen, e.g. a blood or urine test. A relevant diagnostic confirmation was carried out in 59% of cases, while in 39% of cases this was not done.
Antibiotics were mainly taken as a preventative measure for surgical procedures (17%) and to treat various inflammations and infections (14%). Urinary tract infections were also a common reason (13%). In addition, antibiotics were also taken to treat flu or fever (8%), although they are ineffective in fighting these illnesses.
What the Swiss population knows about antibiotics
In the survey, respondents were asked to rate the following four statements as true or false:
• Antibiotics kill viruses (FALSE; percentage of correct responses: 62%)
• Antibiotics are effective in fighting colds and flu (FALSE; percentage of correct responses: 78%)
• The unnecessary use of antibiotics reduces their effectiveness (TRUE; percentage of correct responses: 86%)
• Taking antibiotics often has side effects, such as diarrhoea (TRUE; percentage of correct responses: 67%)
Almost half of respondents rated all four statements correctly, and a third got three out of four right. The mistaken belief that antibiotics kill viruses is still widespread in Switzerland. It is commonly known, however, that the unnecessary use of antibiotics reduces their effectiveness.
Information on antibiotic consumption
The percentage of people who had heard or read information on the unnecessary use of antibiotics within the last 12 months fell to 40%. In 2018, almost half of respondents recalled having read or heard such information. The information came from various sources. The most important was newspapers/specialist periodicals (42%), television reports (20%) and articles on the internet and in online networks (19%). Other important sources were conversations in private settings (18%) and with the doctor (15%).
Desired information and information sources
Respondents who were interested in receiving more information about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance would like to receive it from medical professionals or in other healthcare settings. Television, radio, internet and newspapers play a minor role here.
Antibiotic resistance – a local or global approach?
Half of respondents believe that antibiotic resistance needs to be tackled at all levels: individual, regional, national, European and global. This was already the case in previous surveys.
Should antibiotics be used on farm animals?
As in previous surveys, only four in ten people were aware that antibiotics as growth promoters are banned in Switzerland and in the rest of the European Union.
Some six in ten people believe that sick farm animals should be treated with antibiotics if it is the most appropriate treatment method.
What about if animals would remain sick, suffer or have to be put down without antibiotics? Currently, 44% of respondents think antibiotics should not be used in such cases. However, 12% were not able to answer this question on the spot – possibly due to ethical concerns.