The number of Maltese who take antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription has dropped from 19 per cent to four per cent over 10 years, but the islands still have one of the highest antibiotics consumption rates in Europe.

“We need to reduce this to zero per cent and increase awareness that the misuse of antibiotics harms not only the patient but the rest of the community,” Health Minister Joseph Cassar said at a news conference yesterday in preparation for the European Antibiotics Awareness Day on November 18.

In Malta many antibiotics are taken for influenza, colds and sore throats that are all caused by a virus that cannot be killed by the drugs.

“It’s like filling a diesel car with petrol,” Dr Cassar said, adding that the overconsumption of antibiotics weakened people’s resistance to dangerous bacteria.

He noted that the incid-ence of the superbug MRSA had declined in Maltese hospitals but was on the rise in the rest of the community.

Needless consumption of antibiotics leads the body to develop resistant bacteria like MRSA that could be passed on to others, reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics.

Some 25,000 people a day die in Europe due to resistant bacteria, and about €1.5 billion are spent to treat such infections each year.

Michael Borg of the National Antibiotic Committee said Eurobarometer data for 2009 showed 55 per cent of Maltese took antibiotics, preceded only by Italy with 57 per cent.

Three quarters of the Maltese, compared to half the nationals in EU member states, still believe that anti-biotics kill viruses.

However, 94 per cent of Maltese realise that unnecessary use of antibiotics could make them become ineffect-ive, compared to 83 per cent of EU members.

Guidelines that could help family doctors decide when to prescribe antibiotics are published on

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