“Online, you’re not sure what you’re ordering,” said doctor Eva Gustafsson at the regional communicable diseases centre Smittskydd Skåne.
“Is it the right active ingredient? The correct dosage? Neither do you know if it’s a clean product, or if there are traces of other medications in it,” she told The Local.
Sveriges Radio (SR) reported on Monday that some teenage girls who have cheated on their boyfriend face the risk of the infidelity being revealed after a positive chlamydia test. If a patient tests positive for a sexually transmitted disease in Sweden, they are by law required to give health authorities the names of their recent sex partners. The rule is meant to curtail the spread of communicable diseases across the country.
While local midwife Susanne Barnell told SR she had noticed the trend in the past two to three years, neither she nor Gustafsson at Smittskydd Skåne had access to any figures on how many young Swedes are going online for drugs.
Chat fora in Sweden, meanwhile, have no shortage of people looking for an easily ordered cure.
“About a month ago, I had unprotected sex with the ‘city’s public bicycle’ (who’s been taken for a ride by everyone) and now I’ve started seeing some symptoms of chlamydia,” one poster wrote on the internet forum Flashback, before asking for help with what antibiotics to buy.
A three-page long discussion followed, both with replies asking the person to go to a doctor, others lambasting the poster for putting everyone at risk as the overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the emergence of resistant bacteria worldwide.
Yet there was no dirth of commenters who simply rattled of long lists of antibiotics brands available online.
“Ten to 14 days Doxyferm or 1 gramme azitromax! Can be ordered (online)!” one commenter replied. Another showed a hint of distrust towards the medical profession, typing “There ain’t nothing they can figure out that a Swede of normal intelligence can’t figure out”.
Yet health authorities expressed concern not only that patients weren’t bothering to get a diagnosis, but that they may be self-medicating with the wrong type of antibiotics.
“When it comes to infectious diseases, it’s actually important to know what you are treating,” said Smittskyd Skåne’s Eva Gustafsson, adding it was not only dangerous long-term but potentially pointless short-term to take the wrong kind. “Some antibiotics work well on STDs, while others are used to treat for diarrhoea.”
The overarching risk, meanwhile, is that the patient in question develops resistance to antibiotics – which means once they need to be treated for another infection, the likelihood that the drugs kick in has downgraded.
Furthermore, while chlamydia is “relatively easily treated,” Gustafsson said, if the patient in actual fact has gonorrhoea, medical supervision is key – as the virus has grown more resistant to medication in recent years.
“It’s considerably more complicated,” she told The Local. “To go online and think you can beat gonorrhoea, that’s really taking a chance.”