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Healthy Savings in Italy

Others, not just myself , have noticed that Italians are healthy, but also rather obsessive about their health.  They will resort to antibiotics at the drop of a hat.

In perilous Italy drafts can be lethal, cold drinks can have adverse effects, and sweating is to be avoided at all costs, especially where young children are concerned, and even the innocuous cappuccino can be life threatening, especially if consumed after eating or at any time other than in the morning.

That’s not to mention Italian worries about having a high body temperature, which is something which must cause more days off work than just about anything else here in the Living Museum.

When Italians do feel bad, which appears to be quite often, the panacea for all their ills is the antibiotic.  Not for much longer.  Possibly.

Over Use of Antibiotics in Italy

I’ve gone on about what to me appears to be the over administration of antibiotics in Italy before.  Our son was on them for over three years, which, quite frankly, worried me.  Back in the UK, antibiotics are regarded as something of a treatment of last resort.  Not in Italy.  If the aspirin does not do the trick, and we are not talking about wee pills either, but big pills with added vitamin C, then the next treatment will be antibiotics.  Doctors here prescribe them almost willy nilly.

Incidentally, when I told an English doctor friend about how long my son had been on antibiotics, he was rather shocked – you can read more about this in the Just Another Manic Monday post, which I wrote back in October 2007.

Sensitization of the Italian Public and Italian Doctors to the Issue

This dependence on antibiotics may be about to change.  Indeed, yesterday, whilst taking the bus on one of Milan’s infrequent strike free days, I noticed some interesting publicity.

The message is: Use Antibiotics with Caution.  Wow, I thought, someone has finally woken up to the fact that antibiotics should perhaps not be administered at the first sign of some malaise or other.  It may be true to say that antibiotics are Italy’s most popular form of legal drug.

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Accompanying the campaign designed to reduce Italian consumption of antibiotics is a cute cartoon of a hedgehog.  Why a hedgehog?  I’ve no idea.  Anyway, five points are highlighted in this attempt to educate Italians away from their favourite cure all.  These points are:

  • Don’t take antibiotics when you have the flu or a cold (which are caused by viruses, and thus cannot be touched by even the most potent of antibiotics – something many Italians do not realise – Alex)
  • Only take antibiotics when they are prescribed by a doctor (the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, do not know an awful lot about antibiotics, it has to be said – Alex)
  • Follow the instructions on the bottle carefully (Mixing antibiotics in with your evening risotto is not the greatest of ideas, this is true – Alex)
  • Don’t interrupt the treatment (For Italians foregoing that exotic super alcoholic aperitif can be a strain… – Alex)
  • Don’t suddenly change antibiotics (In the pharmacists: Now sir, we have a range of antibiotics to suit every taste.  If this one does not do the job, try these two. – Alex)

There is even a web site – http://www.iss.it/anti/ (great domain name!) which has been set up to dissuade Italians from partaking of antibiotics, and Italy has discovered the superbug!

A friend of ours is involved in organising conferences for Italian doctors, and recently she was involved in a conference on the dreaded super resistant superbugs which hide in hospitals and have become super resilient to a whole range of antibiotics.  Now while I have not heard of any cases involving these tough little bacterium in Italy, I know that back in the UK the superbug issue has been known about for at least 10 years, if not more.

Why Has Italy Woken up?

Recently a couple of sad cases of killer meningitis have been reported here in Italy, and one wonders whether the antibiotic treatment failed because the bugs which caused the illness were of the superbug variety.  This might explain why Italy has suddenly woken up to the dangers of resorting to antibiotics at the first sign of illness.

Then again, some brightish spark in Italy’s health ministry may have discovered the joys of spreadsheets and ended up feeling rather ill as a result of discovering that the use of antibiotics costs around 1.25 billion Euros each year in Italy.  A shiver was also probably sent down the spine of the same bright spark when he or she discovered that the Italian government/taxpayers foot 90% of the antibiotics bill.  Apparently antibiotics are all the rage in these Italian regions: Lazio, Umbria, Abruzzo, Molise, Puglia, Basilicata, Campania and Sicily.

Antibiotics, as you would imagine, are prescription only medicines in Italy, and especially in the case of children  Costs of antibiotic treatment are heavily subsidised by Italy’s government.  Meanwhile the drug companies who make the stuff are probably rubbing their hands in glee as a result of the Italian propensity towards ingesting litres of antibiotics annually.  This gleeful rubbing of hands on the part of the pharmaceutical companies may, of course, be about to end.

The drug makers might be a little miffed to see their profits drop as a result of Italians finally understanding that antibiotics are not to be taken right, left, and centre.  While I’m not certain, I would imagine that Italy is one of the biggest markets in terms of antibiotics sales in Europe, although I understand that the French are rather partial to antibiotics too.

Hopefully our friend down in the Italian government in Rome will keep his/her spreadsheet up to date, and see if the consumption and cost of antibiotics actually falls.  It will be interesting to hear more.  If we ever do, that is.

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