Ignorance still persists over antibiotic use

Almost half of patients in England do not know that healthy people can carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a new survey has found, while one in nine believe that antibiotics treat allergic reactions. However, there was some good news: most people trust pharmacists for information about antibiotics.

The April 2016 survey, reported in Family Practice, included 1,625 people aged at least 15 years from randomly selected households across England. Of these, 65 per cent said they’d had an infection in the past year and 34 per cent reported being prescribed antibiotics. Forty-two per cent of those with runny noses or colds, or coughs, took an antibiotic for the infection, as did 54 per cent of those with flu symptoms, and 60, 62 and 67 per cent with sinus, throat and ear infections respectively.

Sixty-seven per cent of those who received an antibiotic recalled advice from a healthcare professional about their infection or antibiotic, with 76 per cent saying that the advice was provided at the GP surgery. Eighty-eight per cent trusted GPs’ advice about the need for antibiotics, 69 per cent trusted nurses and 66 per cent trusted pharmacists.

Nevertheless, just 8 per cent of those prescribed antibiotics recalled information about resistance and only 22 per cent said they were given advice about what symptoms should prompt them to contact their GP.
Eighty-six per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Most coughs, colds and sore throats get better on their own without the need for antibiotics” and 77 per cent agreed that “bacterial infections can be effectively treated with antibiotics”.

Only 54 per cent knew that “bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics spread easily from person to person” and only 45 per cent agreed that “healthy people carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria”.

Moreover, 40 and 26 per cent of people felt that antibiotics effectively treated viral and fungal infections respectively, while 14 per cent said that antibiotics treated colds or flu, 11 per cent allergic reactions and 4 per cent hay fever or asthma.

People aged 15-24 years were significantly more likely to say that antibiotics were effective for other illnesses or symptoms than older respondents. In general, recollection of receiving information and knowledge was lower in less educated people and those from less advantaged social backgrounds.

(Family Practice doi:10.1093/fampra/cmw022)

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