Scientists are alarmed by the rate of abuse and misuse of the antibiotic drugs, amoxicillin and amoxiclav, among female Senior High School students in Ghana. 

The study found that the students use these drugs to treat common colds caused by viruses which are not responsive to antibiotics.

Antibiotics are drugs used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection. They may work by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing.

Various studies have shown that giving antibiotics for routine upper respiratory infections increases vulnerability to an aggressive antibiotic-resistant type of bacteria commonly known as Clostridium difficile, which may cause antibiotic-resistant diarrhoea.

The joint study by the Ghana Young Academy and the West Africa Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens, University of Ghana, however, found penicillin use to be on the low side.

Investigators set out to establish the knowledge and pattern of use of antibiotics among females in second-cycle institutions in the management of vaginal infections.

As many as 328 students between 14 and 21 years in 12 schools in Ashanti, Greater Accra and Northern Regions were interviewed. The questionnaire collected information on common conditions treated with antibiotics, knowledge of antibiotic resistance and self-medication.

The researchers found that 79.5 per cent of students have used antibiotics within the past year. Even though 34.76 per cent of the students have used antibiotics once within the year, a significant percentage of 27.74 per cent use it monthly.

“Our intestines contain roughly 100 trillion bacteria of various types. Normal bacteria, known as gut flora, support immunity and proper digestion. Using antibiotics too frequently can reduce the number of normal gut bacteria and allow disease-causing bacteria to flourish. Misuse of antibiotics also increases the chances of antibiotic resistance in normal as well as disease-causing bacteria,” the researchers noted.

This is common when antibiotics classified as broad-spectrum antibiotics are used. Examples include amoxicillin and amoxicillin/clavulanic acid, which are the two most commonly used antibiotics among the students.

Almost 50 per cent of the students were unaware that failure to complete a dose of antibiotics can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance while 40 per cent believed that there was nothing wrong with passing on unfinished antibiotics to a friend or family member.

This study shows that education on responsible use of antibiotics needs to be done early with the younger generation. This may help break the cycle of patient misuse of antibiotics.