Switzerland and antibiotics: population survey 2022

Almost one-fifth of Switzerland’s population took antibiotics in the course of last year. But what does the average Swiss know about these medicines? Or about the growing resistance problem? Do they use them correctly? A representative population survey identified knowledge gaps, that need to be filled.

In order to effectively execute the national Strategy on Antibiotic Resistance (StAR), it is important to know how people use antibiotics, how much they know about them and whether their attitudes towards their use is changing over time. For this reason, DemoSCOPE conducted the biannual representative telephone survey of the Swiss population last year on behalf of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). Like in 2016, 2018, and 2020, 1,000 Swiss citizens were asked about their knowledge of, attitudes towards, and use of antibiotics. We summarised the key findings of this 2022 survey below.

How people in Switzerland use antibiotics

In 2022, almost one fifth of the Swiss population took antibiotics. Antibiotic use declined compared to the previous survey, down from 22% in 2020 to 19% in 2022, in particular in German-speaking Switzerland (- 3%) and Western Switzerland (- 7%).

Respondents reported receiving their antibiotics either directly from their GP or from a pharmacy with a prescription.
The antibiotics were taken primarily in connection with surgery (17%), for various inflammations or infections (16%), or to treat bladder or urinary tract infections (13%).

The proportion of respondents that took antibiotics following the determination of the underlying cause of disease with a laboratory test declined slightly. This proportion was 59% in 2020 and only 54% in 2022.

What people in Switzerland know about antibiotics

Respondents were asked to answer true or false to the following statements:

  • Antibiotics destroy viruses (FALSE; answered correctly by 62%).
  • Antibiotics are an effective agent against flu and colds (FALSE; answered correctly by 87%). Substantially more respondents answered correctly in 2022 compared to 2022 (up 9%).
  • Taking antibiotics unnecessarily reduces their efficacy (TRUE; answered correctly by 86%).
  • Taking antibiotics is often accompanied by side-effects such as diarrhoea (TRUE; answered correctly by 68%).

Almost half the respondents (47%) answered all four statements correctly and third (34%) answered three out of four correctly. On average, 3.24 of the statements were answered correctly – the highest value recorded in these surveys to date.

It is generally known that unnecessarily taking antibiotics will reduce their efficacy, and that antibiotics are not effective against flu or colds. Despite this, over one-third of Switzerland’s population (38%) incorrectly indicates that antibiotics can kill viruses.

Knowledge gaps in the use of antibiotics

Only 44% of the survey’s respondents who had taken antibiotics last year followed the instructions by their GP or pharmacy. These are somewhat more than the 38% in 2020, but substantially fewer than the 61% in 2016 who reported that they had completed the entire course of antibiotics prescribed to them. Accordingly, the number of people that stopped their treatment either after 4 to 14 days, after the packet was empty, or after they felt better declined slightly. The general rule here: antibiotics should always be taken as instructed by the health professionals concerned.

When do you think you should stop taking antibiotics once you have begun a course of treatment?
When do you think you should stop taking antibiotics once you have begun a course of treatment?

It is revealing in this context that only around one-third of respondents recalled receiving information within the previous 12 months on how to correctly take antibiotics. Four years ago, this was still around one half. Print media, the internet, and social media were named as the most important sources of such information. Consultations with healthcare professionals on correct antibiotic use only played a minor role. In addition, the proportion of respondents who changed their view on antibiotic as a result of such professional information has been steadily declining since 2016.

There are obviously also knowledge gaps regarding how to properly dispose of antibiotics that are no longer required. Two-thirds of respondents did report taking these back to a pharmacy, and a further 15% returned them to their GP. 11% incorrectly disposed of them with their household waste, and another 9% kept them and use them for the next infection.

Two-thirds would welcome more information

The proportion of uninterested persons did not change substantially since 2018. Around one-third responded that they have no interest in receiving any further information regarding antibiotics.

Those who are interested, however, would like more information on the topics of side-effects, antibiotic resistance, or general information on antibiotics. They would like to receive this information directly from doctors or pharmacies. Official websites with corresponding information (run by governments, health authorities, the EU and the WHO) have also regained some standing (39%).

Antibiotic resistance: a local issue or a global concern?

Half the respondents in the 2022 survey felt that the problem of antibiotic resistance needs to be tackled at every level: individually, regionally, nationally, Europe-wide, and globally. The remains unchanged from the previous surveys.

Should antibiotics be administered to farm animals?

As in the past, only four out of ten respondents know that the use of antibiotics in animals as growth promoters is banned in Switzerland and throughout the European Union.

Six out of ten respondents believed that sick farm animals should be treated with antibiotics if this is the most appropriate treatment method.

And if the animal would remain sick, suffer, or have to be killed if antibiotics were not administered? In such cases, 36% of respondents (fewer than before) felt that antibiotics should still not be used, while 15% felt unable to decide on the spot.

Last modification 01.02.2023

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