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What does “inappropriate use of antibiotics” mean?

The human health sector accounts for 20% of antibiotic usage worldwide. As such, demanding unnecessary antibiotic therapies from your doctor or pharmacist or buying these drugs over-the-counter can contribute to the spread of resistance which is harmful not only for you, but for society as well.

If you are a patient, you can use antibiotics inappropriately if you:

  • don’t complete a full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your health professional
  • take a lower dose of antibiotics than that recommended to you by your doctor
  • take antibiotics for a wrong indication: viral infections (e.g., colds, flues), coughs, inflammations
  • share the antibiotics prescribed to you with other people

In animal health, antibiotics are used inappropriately when used as a:

  • prophylactic
  • metaphylactic
  • growth promoter

An animal may be treated with antibiotics after undergoing surgery or injurious trauma – preventive use or prophylaxis. Preventive treatment should only be applied to animals diagnosed at high risk of bacterial disease and not as a routine practice or to compensate for poor hygiene and inadequate husbandry conditions.

Antibiotics may also be used for metaphylaxis, to control the spread of disease between animals. When animals are kept in close contact with each other and are not looked after properly, infections are quick to develop and spread (MSU). The low prices of antibiotics, particularly in developing countries that have large meat production industries such as India and China, drive the tendency to overuse antibiotics to curb infections rather than fix the hygiene and health practices that exacerbate them in the first place.

Antibiotics are added to animal feed to promote faster growth by accelerating the rate of weight gain and/or increasing feed conversion efficiency in animals. Antibiotics have been banned as growth promoters in the EU since 2006 (Regulation IP/05/1687) and replaced by feed additives with a similar effect; however, this example has not been followed by many of the top meat exporting countries.