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New Study on Patients' Knowledge on Antibiotics Yeilds Surprising Results

"We need to fight fire with fire."

(Image via Global Panorama/flickr)

You know bacteria and viruses are different things.

You know antibiotics won't help cure a viral infection.

But do you think you should take antibiotics just in case?

You could be helping to breed antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

In a study publicized Monday by George Washington University, researchers asked 113 patients at a large urban hospital for their thoughts and opinions on antibiotics — and the results were alarming.

(Image via Global Panorama/flickr) (Image via Global Panorama/flickr)

Nearly half of the respondents had a "germs are germs" attitudes that didn't even differentiate between bacteria and viruses, the study found.

Worse, even those respondents who knew that there are crucial differences between viruses and bacteria — including the fact that antibiotics don't kill viruses — still endorsed unnecessary antibiotic usage, with 75 percent of them embracing a "why take a risk?" attitude that advocating taking antibiotics even when one knows one has a viral, not bacterial, infection.

"Patients figure that taking antibiotics can't hurt, and just might make them improve," said David Broniatowski, assistant professor in GW's School of Engineering and Applied Science. "When they come in for treatment, they are usually feeling pretty bad and looking for anything that will make them feel better. These patients might know that there is, in theory, a risk of side effects when taking antibiotics, but they interpret that risk as essentially nil."

But the risks are actually huge.

For the person taking unnecessary antibiotics, risks include developing a secondary infection and allergic reactions.

For the world, the risks associated with unnecessary antibiotic usage are huge, as overuse of the medicine has led to bacteria evolving into antibiotic-resistant strains — meaning overuse of antibiotics now can lead to those drugs becoming useless in the future.

"More than half of the patients we surveyed already knew that antibiotics don't work against viruses, but they still agreed with taking antibiotics just in case," Dr. Broniatowski said. "We need to fight fire with fire. If patients think that antibiotics can't hurt, we can't just focus on telling them that they probably have a virus. We need to let them know that antibiotics can have some pretty bad side effects, and that they will definitely not help cure a viral infection."

(H/T: Science Daily)

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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