Over the years, Ganesh, a city-based pharmacist has observed just how his customers’ know-how on self-medication has evolved.

“Earlier, people would come to pharmacies and ask for Erythromycin for a throat infection. Today, they ask for a stronger antibiotic, Azithromycin. Since antibiotics are available over the counter and are fast-acting, people take them for anything – even a common cold or fever,” he said.

“People take antibiotics for ordinary fever, which can be self-limiting. At times, diarrhoea too, can be self-limiting and oral re-hydration solutions are enough to treat it. But very often, anti-diarrhoeal drugs are prescribed. The use of antibiotics is rampant here, and there is no standard protocol for prescribing them. If giving antibiotics over-the-counter is wrong, then prescribing these medicines without knowing the actual cause of the illness — viral or bacterial — is also wrong,” said S. Elango, president of Indian Public Health Association, Tamil Nadu branch.