Tuesday 18 November is European Antibiotic Awareness Day. On this day, throughout Europe, attention is focused on the responsible use of antibiotics for people and animals. Using antibiotics incorrectly or too frequently causes bacteria to become increasingly resistant (insusceptible) to the effects of antibiotics. The risk is that illnesses such as pneumonia or bladder infections could become more difficult to treat, or even untreatable. In addition to responsible use of antibiotics, we also focus on the prevention of the spread of resistant bacteria in the Netherlands.

Responsible use

Antibiotics are only effective in cases of bacterial infections. Antibiotics do not work in cases of infection caused by viruses, such as  'flu or colds. The more antibiotics are used, the greater the risk that bacteria become resistant. This RIVM animation explains how it works.


For this reason, patients in the Netherlands may only acquire antibiotics on prescription and doctors are cautious about prescribing antibiotics. It is important that patients correctly follow the instructions for using antibiotics. This means: finish the course and do not allow leftover medication to be used by others. In this way the chance of resistance is reduced and antibiotics will continue to be effective for longer.

Prevention of spreading

No matter how well we deal with antibiotics in the Netherlands, people can unwittingly bring resistant bacteria from abroad or through contact with (farm) animals. It is important to prevent the further spread of these bacteria. This can cause enormous problems, particularly in healthcare institutions and hospitals, because their occupants are especially vulnerable. The spread of bacteria can be prevented by applying a good hygiene routine, such as washing hands properly, and by gaining insight into which people are carriers of resistant bacteria. For example, conducting intake interviews in hospitals and healthcare institutions in order to acquire accurate information can help. This is not only the responsibility of the hospitals and healthcare institutions themselves, but also of the patients personally.

European Antibiotics Day

The annual European Antibiotics Day is an initiative of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). On this day, the ECDC requests all member states of the European Union to focus on the responsible use of antibiotics. In the Netherlands we also focus on the prevention of the spread of resistant bacteria. RIVM, along with various partners, is to hold a symposium for professional groups which deal with the use and prescription of antibiotics in their practices, such as General Practitioners, dentists and veterinary surgeons.