What's your Antibiotics IQ? National survey

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Janice Carr/CDC Public Health Image Library

Antibiotics can treat bacteria like clostridium difficile, but not viral illnesses like the common cold. There's widespread misunderstanding about that and other antibiotic facts, a nationwide study concludes.

Many people in this country harbor mistaken perceptions about antibiotics that could endanger their health and that of others, concludes a survey released this week by Pew Health Group and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report, “Americans’ Knowledge of and Attitudes Toward Antibiotic Resistance,” found that  87 percent of Americans correctly believe antibiotics are effective for treating bacterial infections such as strep throat.

 But it also found that a third of all Americans mistakenly believe antibiotics can treat viral infections such as flu bugs and the common cold.

They can’t.

The findings of nationwide telephone survey of 1,004 U.S. adults, released during the CDC's  third annual "Get Smart About Antibiotics Week,"  also indicates that 39% of Americans don’t believe an individual’s misuse of an antibiotic can weaken the effectiveness of antibiotics for others.

But that’s exactly what’s happening as a growing number of drug-resistant infections each year cause tens of thousands of deaths and more than $20 billion in health care costs, the Pew Health Group reports.

“More and more we’re seeing resistant infections - so called “super bugs” that are resistant to all or most existing antibiotics,” says Allan Coukell, director of medical programs for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “That’s a real concern because we don’t have many new antibiotics coming to market.”

Many of the drug companies that were producing antibiotics have instead turned their attention to the more profitable drugs investors favor, he says. 

On a more positive front, the survey suggests 86% of poll respondents understand that taking a full course of antibiotics prescribed by a doctor  - and not stopping when symptoms disappear - is important to prevent surviving bacteria from re-infecting the patient.

Curious about your antibiotics IQ? Take this quiz. 

Antibiotics Survey - Hart Research - 2012

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