“The latest ECDC data show a decrease in the total consumption of human antibiotics by more than 15% between 2019 and 2020. This has been observed in most EU/EEA [European Union and European Economic Area] countries, mainly in primary care and most likely as a result of the covid-19 pandemic”, reveals the European agency in a statement.
The ECDC justifies that the reduction in the last two years “has occurred mainly in the primary care sector and may be the result of a decrease in the number of primary care consultations, either due to hesitation to seek health care for mild self-limiting infections, or due to difficulties in obtaining an appointment”.
This situation resulted in “fewer antibiotic prescriptions for mild and self-limiting infections and had a more noticeable effect in countries where excessive and inappropriate use was common before the pandemic”, adds the European center, also speaking of the “low reported incidence of respiratory infections unrelated to covid-19 in the EU/EEA in 2020” due to the adoption of measures such as physical distance, confinement, respiratory etiquette, use of face masks and hand hygiene.
However, despite this sharp reduction in antibiotic consumption, antimicrobial resistance (ADR) levels "remain high for several important combinations of bacterial species and antimicrobial groups, with the highest percentages generally reported by southern and eastern European countries", alerts the ECDC.
AMR jeopardises the effectiveness of preventing and treating an increasing number of infections by viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites.
According to ECDC data, every year more than 670,000 infections occur in the EU/EEA due to bacterial resistance to antibiotics and approximately 33,000 people die as a direct consequence of these infections.
The weight of AMR on health is comparable to that of flu, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined, portrays the European agency.
ECDC Director Andrea Ammon points out that "covid-19 has been everyone's focus since the beginning of 2020 and with good reason."
“However, despite the ongoing pandemic, we cannot afford to neglect other major global public health issues, such as AMR”, highlights the official.
Noting that "further analysis is needed to better understand the reasons for this decrease [in antibiotic consumption] and whether it will have an impact on antimicrobial resistance", Andrea Ammon speaks of "good news".
The ECDC director therefore urges European health authorities to use antibiotics “with prudence” and to commit to “good practices in the prevention and control of infections”, given the “serious challenge” of antimicrobial resistance.
In the EU/EEA as a whole, ECDC said in the report that “most countries reported a substantial decrease between 2019 and 2020” in antibiotic consumption both in the community and in the hospital sector, “although the decreases were generally greater in the than in the hospital sector”.
Portugal and six other countries (Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia and Malta) immediately reported “a decrease in the community, but an increase in the hospital sector”, concludes the European agency.