Buying antibacterial creams without a prescription remains effortless despite calls on pharmacists to stop the practice for fear of further spreading the superbug MRSA within the community.

The Times yesterday randomly popped into eight pharmacies to buy Fucidin, a popular antibacterial cream, after it was reported on Sunday that MRSA was present in the community possibly as a consequence of the abuse and misuse of antibiotic creams.

Martin Balzan, president of the Medical Association of Malta, had said both doctors and pharmacists were very aware of the issue and were therefore careful in the prescription and dispensation of antibiotics. Judging by yesterday’s experiment this does not seem to be the case.

Five of the pharmacists, in Valletta, Floriana and ─Žamrun, readily handed Fucidin over the counter without either asking for a prescription or any questions related to its use.

The packaging of Fucidin itself advises that the cream should be used only “as directed by a physician”.

One pharmacist asked what the cream was for and when it was explained that it was intended for “an inflamed mosquito bite”, she pointed out that antibiotics were probably not necessary but still proposed an alternative – Fucidin H – which contains the antibiotic fucidic acid.

Another pharmacist said a prescription should be presented for this antibiotic cream but then consented to sell it when told the cream was for somebody else.

Only one pharmacy, in Floriana, refused to sell the cream without a prescription.

The chairman of the National Antibiotic Committee, Michael Borg, has appealed to doctors to cut down on prescribing antibiotic creams and urged pharmacists not to dispense such products over the counter without prescription.

His appeal follows a study that showed MRSA was found in the nostrils of 8.2 per cent of 450 healthy individuals who took part in the research.

Conducted by Jeanesse Scerri as part of her Medical Laboratory Sciences degree, the study identified a new strain that is different from all the MRSA strains previously encountered in Maltese hospitals. The new MRSA variant seems to have developed in the community and is resistant to penicillin anti-biotics and to fucidic acid.

Misuse and overuse of fucidic acid creams, such as Fucidin and Fucicort, were among the possible causes of a new strain of MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacterium. The strain is resistant to penicillin antibiotics in the same way other MRSA bacteria are, but it also carries a resistant gene for fucidic acid.

When contacted for a reaction to the fact that his appeal seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, Dr Borg said this was a worrying situation because all pharmacists knew these were prescription-only medicines.

“There is a common misconception that these creams can be used to treat anything. It seems there isn’t enough awareness on the risks of misusing or overusing antibacterial creams. Our education campaign on the subject definitely needs to be intensified. Everyone, from doctors to pharmacists and patients, has a role to play,” he added.

Dr Borg stressed that antibiotic creams were mainly recommended only for mild cases of erysipelas and impetigo. Both are superficial skin infections most commonly seen in babies and young children. They tend to cause inflamed blisters, typically around the nose, mouth and neck, that burst and form a weeping crust.

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