Too much and too little? Prevalence and extent of antibiotic use in a New Zealand region

Norris, P., Horsburgh, S., Keown, S., Arroll, B., Lovelock, K., Cumming, J., Herbison, P., Crampton, P. and Becket, Gordon (2011) Too much and too little? Prevalence and extent of antibiotic use in a New Zealand region. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 66 (8). pp. 1921-1926. ISSN 0305-7453

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Objectives Although antibiotic use in the community is a significant contributor to resistance, little is known about social patterns of use. This study aimed to explore the use of antibiotics by age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status and rurality.

Methods Data were obtained on all medicines dispensed to ambulatory patients in one isolated town for a year, and data on antibiotics are presented in this paper. Demographic details were obtained from pharmacy records or by matching to a national patient dataset.

Results During the study year, 51% of the population received a prescription for one or more antibiotics, and on average people in the region received 10.15 defined daily doses (DDDs). Prevalence of use was higher for females (ratio, 1.18), and for young people (under 25) and the elderly (75 and over), and the amount in DDDs/person/year broadly followed this pattern. Māori (indigenous New Zealanders) were less likely to receive a prescription (48% of the population) than non-Māori (55%) and received smaller quantities on average. Rural Māori, including rural Māori children, received few prescriptions and low quantities of antibiotics compared with other population groups.

Conclusions The level of antibiotic use in the general population is high, despite campaigns to try to reduce unnecessary use. The prevalence of acute rheumatic fever is high amongst rural Māori, and consequently treatment guidelines recommend prophylactic use of antibiotics for sore throat in this population. This makes the comparatively very low level of use of antibiotics amongst rural Māori children very concerning.

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