Antibiotics or paracetamol

Antibiotics or paracetamol

Not getting antibiotics, but just the advice to take paracetamol, is something that internationals in the Netherlands frequently complain about. It is a fact that Dutch doctors are less likely to prescribe antibiotics compared to what you may be accustomed to, but do they understand your need?

Most medicines require a prescription from your GP after a personal consultation. However, after a consultation, it is possible that you will receive a diagnosis, but no medication. This restraint in prescribing medication applies particularly to the use of antibiotics.

Why are Dutch doctors reluctant to prescribe antibiotics

Antibiotics are drugs that are designed to fight bacterial infections. Most airway infections and gastroenteritis are however caused by viruses, on which antibiotics have no effect. Secondly, in the human body there are “good” and “bad” bacteria. When you take an antibiotic, it may also cause  destruction of good bacteria, which weakens the immune system.

Resistant bacteria

Yet another consideration is the emergence of resistant bacteria, which cause serious and potentially lethal infections because they have become resistant to the antibiotics currently available. Resistance in bacteria is caused amongst others by using antibiotics when this is not medically required, such as in case of most coughs, colds and sore throats that are caused by viruses.

Prescription of antibiotics in these cases results in background bacteria being exposed to the antibiotics that can cause them to mutate and develop resistance. Staphylococcus Aureus for example, lives harmlessly in the nose, or on the skin of one out of every three of us, but if it should become a resistant strain and be passed to a vulnerable person, the consequences could be very serious.

The prudent approach by Dutch Healthcare professionals in prescribing antibiotics results in a very low incidence of antibiotic resistant infections in The Netherlands.

Does the GP understand your needs?

At the same time the doctor should also understand your needs and expectations. Prescription practices across the world are often different than Dutch guidelines. Not getting what you expect when you don’t feel well, may even make you feel worse.

Fortunately many Dutch GP’s take the time to discuss these pro’s and con’s when assessing your situation. If, however, it is best to let an illness run its course without antibiotics, paracetamol indeed may help to reduce pain or fever while you get better.


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