S Muthukumaran, a 29-year-old chemist at a pharmacy in West Mambalam, always manages to offer his customers what they need.
On Saturday, when one of his customers came with complaints of severe throat pain, body ache and fever, he reached out for a blue box and handed over a strip of Azithral 500, a brand name for azithromycin, an antibiotic.
“Once a day for three days. Have a paracetamol if there is fever. If you are too tired, add B complex,” he said. And the customer walked out thanking him.
Though a prevalent practice, self-medication is increasingly worrying the public health department this monsoon. Azithromycin, like all antibiotics, requires a doctor’s prescription. Antibiotics are prescribed only for bacterial infections. They are ineffective against viruses such as dengue, H1N1 or even flu. “We are beginning to see a spike in fever cases along with sporadic cases of H1N1and dengue and it is time to stop popping pills without prescriptions. There are many problems with self-medication. It increases complications and risks of death and also increases chances of diseases spreading,” said director of public K Kolandaisamy.
In 2017, when there was a dengue outbreak, most people who died delayed the right treatment. “We have also been telling pharmacists not to give medicine without prescriptions,” he said.
A recent city-based study shows that nearly seven out of ten patients in Chennai are opting for self-medication. The study done on 610 patients visiting a dental hospital showed that 4 of 5 patients selected antibiotics from their previous prescriptions. Less than one in 10 complained of adverse reactions, and more than half of them did not know what antibiotic misuse is.
The study, published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion concluded the need for health care professionals and government bodies to enlighten the public about the harmful effects of self-medication with antibiotics to overcome the antibiotic resistance. “The government should consider steps to supervise or control the practice of self-medication by check on availability of the medicines without prescription, controlling over-thecounter medicines, and formulating guideline for the usage of the drugs by the physician and pharmacist,” said the study’s corresponding author Dr J Muruganandhan of Sri Venkateswara Dental College and Hospital.
Doctors say different antibiotics are used for different types of bacteria, so merely taking one does not mean it will cure an ailment. Taking the wrong antibiotic may cause worsened infections or allergic reactions.
“Most antibiotics need to be taken for five days to a week. When taken for only a few days, the likelihood of a mutation in a bacterium’s genetic structure is increased. These changes can make the germs resistant to the antibiotics meant to kill them,” said infectious diseases expert Dr V Ramasubramanian.