An 18.3% reduction in human consumption of antibiotics was recorded in Europe in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a study by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The decline – the largest on an annual basis in two decades – has been observed in almost all European countries studied (26 out of 27) and is mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
From 2016 to 2019 there was an average annual decrease of 1.8% in the use of antibiotics, while between 2019-2018 the decrease was about tenfold (18.3%). The reduction concerned various types of antibiotics, such as penicillins, cephalosporins, macrolides, etc.
However, according to ECDC researchers, who published the publication in the “Eurosurveillance”, levels of antimicrobial resistance remain high for several important combinations of bacteria, especially in the countries of Southern and Eastern Europe. They also stressed that it remains to be seen whether the decline in antibiotic consumption will continue in 2021, as well as whether this will have an impact on antimicrobial resistance in Europe.
According to European Commissioner Stella Kyriakidou, “Antimicrobial resistance remains a serious challenge worldwide. It is a silent pandemic that is happening here and now. Although antibiotic use has generally declined in the EU / EEA, we need to increase our response to public health.”
ECDC Director Andrea Amon said: “Despite our focus on the ongoing pandemic, we need to persevere in our efforts to further reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics.”
The decline in antibiotic use last year was largely due to reduced visits to doctors in the midst of a pandemic, resulting in fewer prescription drugs for mild infections that do not require hospitalization. This is especially true in those countries where antibiotics were abused in the slightest before the pandemic. The decrease in antibiotics also came from the fact that due to the pandemic and the protection measures of the population (masks, distances, lockdowns, etc.), other respiratory infections were drastically reduced.
According to the ECDC, resistance to last-line antibiotics, such as vancomycin and carbapenems, remains a serious issue. When these antibiotics become resistant to germs, there are now very limited treatment options, often with a fatal outcome for patients.
The ECDC estimates that more than 670,000 infections occur in Europe each year due to bacterial resistance to antibiotics and about 33,000 people die from them. The cost to lives of antimicrobial resistance is comparable to that of the flu, tuberculosis and AIDS combined.
This year, between November 17 and 24, World Antimicrobial Awareness Week will take place, an initiative of the World Health Organization. In Europe, the corresponding European Antibiotic Awareness Day takes place on 18 November.