Thursday, November 18, 2010

What does the general public actually know about antibiotics and their activity?

In observance of the ECDC's Antibiotic Awareness Day today, November 18, we asked Dr. Cliodna McNulty, Medical Microbiologist and head of the Health Protection Agency's PCU, to share her thoughts on what the British public knows about antibiotics.

I have been involved in three large household surveys in Britain finding out what the general public think about antibiotics and resistance. The public's attitudes have changed little over the last 7 years. Reassuringly, most of the general public agree that overuse of antibiotics increases resistance, and that antibiotic resistance is increasing. Respondents also know the principles of prudent antibiotic use, as very few disagreed with the statement, "A course of antibiotics should always be completed" and the same percentage didn't agree that "Antibiotics should not be taken unnecessarily."

However, despite many public campaigns the use of antibiotics hasn't changed. A similar number in 2009 to that of 2003 reported having an antibiotic in the past year. Respondents were less knowledgeable about whether antibiotics were active against coughs and colds, viruses, bacterial and our normal flora. A third think that "Antibiotics work on most coughs and colds" and more think that "Antibiotics can kill viruses." This indicates that there are a substantial group of the British public who believe that antibiotics will be of value when they have a cough or cold and are therefore still likely to request antibiotics from clinicians when they have these conditions.

In future antibiotic educational campaigns, it may be better to discuss the need for antibiotics in relation to the severity of infection or syndrome, rather than the type of microbes (be they bacteria or viruses) responsible.

What are your thoughts and ideas?

1 comment:

  1. How to meet the existing need for information?

    Cliodna, thank you for sharing the general results of the British surveys. “… most of the general public agree that overuse of antibiotics increases resistance […] Respondents also know the principles of prudent antibiotic use […] However, despite many public campaigns the use of antibiotics hasn't changed”…

    Where is the disconnect?

    Considering the high importance of antibiotics and health issues in everyday life, it is not surprising that a majority of the population is aware of antibiotic resistance. The current and, obviously, partial understanding of antibiotic resistance by the general population turns the dissemination of information into a difficult task. Just like closed-end questions, any additional information given has the side effect of activating passive knowledge. Personal prejudices and experiences which are often negative thereby occupy the foreground of debate about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance. As long as no additional information is given, an objective understanding of the issue prevails. However, when information is given that is not sufficiently objective, predominantly confused reactions are evoked.

    A great advantage for the communication of information is the high credibility of scientists as communicators. Scientists are often judged as most credible, even more credible than physicians. Once more, a need for information can be identified that goes beyond personal concern: the population desires accurate information on what kind of infection they have and how to treat it. Therefore, my support goes to the emphasis of campaigns on the type of microorganism causing the infection, thus the need for accurate diagnosis, and the use of antibiotics for only bacteria.