The findings of the first Irish survey of college students’ awareness and knowledge of misuse and abuse of antibiotics were presented to the public at an open lecture in GMIT on Monday November 18, marking European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD ). The findings reveal there is a lack of awareness, understanding, and knowledge about antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance among this demographic.
The survey, “Awareness of antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance in a west of Ireland third-level student population,” was carried out this year by Dr Debbie Corcoran, Dr Sheila Faherty, and Sandy Bakankio BSc, Department of Biopharmaceutical and Medical Science, GMIT, in collaboration with members of the HSE’s national Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control team (AMRIC ) — surveillance scientist Maria Molloy and communications manager Audrey Lambourn (HCAI ).
The study involved 509 students from across all five GMIT campuses, comprising 70 per cent females, 28 per cent males, and two per cent preferring not to disclose their gender. Although this study shows there is awareness of correct antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance overall, there is a lack of awareness and understanding, illustrating a “surface knowledge”. The study shows there is misuse of antibiotics, with 35 per cent of the study population using leftover antibiotics, 1.2 per cent of participants obtaining antibiotics online, and 1.2 per cent obtaining antibiotics abroad. The study also highlighted a lack of knowledge in this demographic in relation to the treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
Dr Sheila Faherty said: “Students favour dissemination methods such as social media and their colleges for health information, particularly in relation to antibiotic resistance. Health care professionals are cited as an important source of information and they have an important role in influencing behavioural changes. The findings would indicate to us that public health campaigns should be tailored to reach targeted audience using words and language people will understand. It would be beneficial to work directly with colleges and student groups to target messaging and behaviour change campaigns to the student population.”
The study findings are to be published next year, but work will continue with a focus on delivering the important message of antibiotic resistance to this demographic nationwide. Dr Debbie Corcoran says one of the group’s aims is to secure funding to expand the project and target this demographic through a nationwide health promotional campaign involving all higher education institutes in tandem with evaluating current campaigns amongst this demographic.
“The findings of this study are important as this demographic of 18 to 25-year-olds are the future," Dr Corcoran said. "They are our future parents and educators of the next generation. We need to make sure that they have the correct message on antibiotics. It is absolutely essential that they do have the knowledge and information to allow them to make informed decisions regarding the proper use of antibiotics and that they are familiar with the concept and consequences of antibiotic resistance.”
The study evaluated awareness and knowledge in a student population in line with the Irish National Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance 2017-2020 (iNAP ) strategic objective one, which centres on awareness and knowledge of antimicrobial resistance. The GMIT-HSE group believes this is the first Irish survey focused on students aged 18 to 25, measuring their knowledge of antibiotics and resistance.