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McKinn et all state in their work published in the BMJ state that drivers of antibiotic misuse in Vietnam are socio-economic than biomedical in nature (1). However, does linguistics play a role as well?
What is an antibiotic? The generally accepted definition is that an antibiotic is a drug that is used for the treatment of bacterial infections (less commonly to prevent), these agents can either kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria.
However, the term antibiotic, as opposed to an antibacterial, may denote a drug with a wider activity, an agent that is active against any “biotic”. Reading on the origin of this term, it appears that this was the original meaning of this term (2).
In a couple of recent surveys that we conducted, we identified that many people have this misconception. This was more obvious in open ended questions. In an online survey conducted in Sri Lanka, 190 (93.1%) participants out of 204 stated they knew what an antibiotic is and defined it in their own terms. However, 51 (26.8%) of this190 defined antibiotics as agents that can kill any micro-organism (3).
In the same group of people, 12 mentioned substances other than antibiotics as examples of antibiotics, including antiseptics with antibacterial properties such as povidone iodine and triclosan, a vaccine (anti-rabies vaccine), paracetamol, chlorpheniramine and cetirizine, domperidone, aspirin, insulin, saline, and plants (cannabis and “weniwelgeta”).
In both the...
In both the above study and another survey done among a group of attendees to an out patient department in Sri lanka (4), many people believed that antibiotics can cure or speed up recovery from common cold. This was expressed by 391 out of 450 (86.9%) OPD attendees and 147 out of 204 (72.1%) in the online survey.
Has the use of the term “antibiotic” instead of “antibacterial” contributed to a confusion in understanding on the action of an antibiotic, leading to misuse of antibiotics?
1. McKinn S, Trinh DH, Drabarek D, Trieu TT, Nguyen PTL, Cao TH, Dang AD, Nguyen TA, Fox GJ, Bernays S. Drivers of antibiotic use in Vietnam: implications for designing community interventions. BMJ Glob Health. 2021 Jul;6(7):e005875. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2021-005875. PMID: 34257138.
2.Selman A. Waksman. What is an Antibiotic or an Antibiotic Substance?, Mycologia. 1947; 39:5, 565-569, DOI: 10.1080/00275514.1947.12017635
3.Priyasad I, Abeyrathna HMHGGSS, Abhayasinghe PRRMRD, Althaf KR, Amarajeea OR, Liyanapathirana LVC (2018). Knowledge, attitudes and practices related to antibiotic resistance among a cohort of internet users in Sri Lanka. The Bulletin of the Sri Lanka College of Microbiologists. Volume 16(1), 33-34. (Poster presentation)
4.Abhayasinghe PRRWMRD, Abeyrathna HMHGGSS, Amarajeewa OR, Althaf KR, Alahakoon AMAPK, Abewardhana IMAP, Alahakoon ARRP, Al-Hithaya UKF, Amarasinghe AKDAE, Dema C, Pelzom T, Liyanapathirana V. AWARENESS ON ANTIBIOTIC USE AND DRIVERS OF ANTIMICROBIAL RESISTANCE AMONG PATIENTS ATTENDING THE OUT PATIENT DEPARTMENT AT TEACHING HOSPITAL, PERADENIYA. Presented at the Annual Academic Sessions of the Kandy Society of Medicine 2020. Book of Abstracts pp 65.