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Antibiotic overuse harming Indias fight against TB

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Toronto: India, which is facing the highest burden of tuberculosis (TB) in the world, is also the world’s largest consumer of antibiotics, say researchers of Indian-origin in a study, conducted to determine whether pharmacies have contributed to the inappropriate use of antibiotics, reports IANS.

TB is a potentially serious infectious bacterial disease that mainly affects the lungs. Excess usage of antibiotics has lead to significant antimicrobial resistance that threatens the effective prevention and treatment of TB, as resistant microorganisms (including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites) are able to withstand attack by the antimicrobial drugs.

Also Read: Daily antibiotics prevent drug-resistant TB-study


The findings showed that pharmacies frequently dispensed antibiotics to simulated patients who presented with typical TB symptoms. However, none of the pharmacies dispensed first-line anti-tuberculosis drugs without prescriptions.

Antibiotics and steroids (which can be harmful to individuals who actually have TB), were dispensed only when the patient presented with a lab test confirming TB, thus making the diagnosis apparent to the pharmacist, the study said.

“Our study clearly showed that not a single pharmacy gave away first line anti-TB drugs (isoniazid, rifampicin, ethambutol, pyrazinamide and streptomycin) without prescriptions,” said Madhukar Pai, Canada Research Chair at McGill University, in Quebec, Canada. “However, pharmacists gave away other antibiotics and rarely referred patients with typical TB symptoms, and that means they are contributing to delays in TB diagnosis,” Pai added.

Also Read: India ranks 14th out of 22 countries on TB prevalence

This can increase transmission of the infection in the community. So, there is great potential to harness pharmacists to identify those who need TB testing in India, the researchers said.

For the study, the team used two standardised patient cases, one with a patient presenting with two to three weeks of pulmonary TB symptoms and a second with a patient with microbiologically confirmed pulmonary TB.

These trained patients then visited 622 pharmacies in three Indian cities (Delhi, Mumbai, and Patna), completing 1200 interactions with pharmacists. After each interaction, the patients remembered what was said to them, and collected all the pills that were dispensed to them by the pharmacists.