A survey conducted by researchers from George Washington, Cornell and Johns Hopkins universities uncovered disturbing findings about patients’ understanding, or lack of, the potential dangers of antibiotic use. The survey revealed a common misconception among the public: antibiotics are considered a perfectly safe cure-all; that is – many patients want antibiotics, even when they know antibiotics will not actually cure what ails them, such as the flu, because they feel antibiotics will only positively impact their health.
Patients who understood that there may be risks involved in taking unnecessary antibiotics essentially interpreted them to be minimal. But there are real risks associated with taking antibiotics when they will have no affect on the patient’s illness, mainly for secondary infections and allergic reactions.
“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,” said Dr. Broniatowski, assistant professor in GW’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.
When antibiotics are prescribed for every cold or flu virus, the body is exposed to the antibiotics over and over again, and the bacteria in the body learn how to thrive despite the attack, making the antibiotic ineffective. Should you ever pick up an actual bacterial infection and these bacteria happen to be an antibiotic-resistant strain, you’ll quite possibly have an infection that does not respond to antibiotics, putting your health at serious risk. Dr. Broniatowski’s research uncovered a need for an improved line of communication between doctors, patients and caretakers, and new educational materials that stop focusing on the difference between germs and viruses, and instead shed light on the real dangers of taking unwarranted antibiotics.
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