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Patients ‘unsure what antibiotics are for’

18 November 2014

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The majority of patients do not understand what antibiotics are used for according to survey published today by Public Health England (PHE).

Of the 1,625 adults questioned, four in ten believe antibiotics could be used to treat viral infections and in the last year, four in ten people with a cough or symptoms of a cold, and six in ten people with a throat infection, have taken antibiotics.

Half of those questioned also believe that antibiotics weakened the immune system and 40% of 15-25 year olds admitted to have taken antibiotics that had not been prescribed by a medical professional.

Dr Cliodna McNulty, head of the PHE’s Primary Care Unit said:  “There is a relatively good awareness that antibiotics are for the treatment of bacterial infections, but there is still a strong myth that they can also help with viral infections and other symptoms – which they cannot.

“Our survey results highlight the need for much greater awareness-raising as to what antibiotics are, and what conditions they can be used for. People also do not realise that we carry antibiotic resistant organisms and spread them to others very easily.”

The results of the survey have been released on European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) – an annual campaign to raise awareness of the risks associated with misuse of antibiotics.

Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, said: “We need to preserve the antibiotics we have otherwise we could see the end of modern medicine as we know it. This is about appropriate prescribing by GPs and patients being aware when antibiotics are really needed.”

In conjunction with this, PHE has launched the Antibiotic Guardian Campaign and are asking both members of the public and healthcare workers to sign up and make better use of antibiotic treatments.