During the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, fewer antibiotics were prescribed than usual in Belgium, concluded researchers from the University of Antwerp from anonymous patient data from GP practices.
Particularly during telephone consultations, GPs were less likely to prescribe antibiotics, but the researchers also found a decline during consultations in person.
“Covid-19 appears to have a positive effect on the number of antibiotic prescriptions,” doctor Stefan Morreel, who led the study, told the Belga News Agency. “We saw a clear reduction, by about 57%.”
For amoxicillin, a frequently prescribed antibiotic for respiratory tract infections, there was even a 65% drop, the researchers found. The restrictions to reduce the circulation of the coronavirus also serve to make people less likely to resort to antibiotics – which only help against bacteria, not viruses.
“Washing your hands regularly, using disposable paper tissues when you cough, staying at home when you are ill: these are good habits that can also reduce antibiotic use in the long term, if people keep doing them,” said Morreel.
“And this way, we can also reduce the resistance of antibiotics to bacteria, and continue to help patients who really need antibiotics,” he added.
Over the same period, the demand for help with psychological complaints has risen a lot. “This increase was more pronounced for anxiety symptoms,” Morreel said. “During the first wave, the numbers doubled, but the demand for help with psychological symptoms remained higher than before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic even after that.”
These additional consultations took place mostly by telephone, the research found. “This shows that despite the higher administrative workload in times of Covid, GPs still make time for patients with mental problems. It remains crucial to seek the right help in time for this.”