Public beliefs on antibiotics and respiratory tract infections: an internet-based questionnaire study Journal Articles uri icon

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  • BACKGROUND: Patient expectations are among the strongest predictors of clinicians' antibiotic prescribing decisions. Although public knowledge, beliefs, and experiences of antibiotics contribute to these expectations, little is known about these public views. AIM: To gain insight into public knowledge, beliefs, and experiences of antibiotics and respiratory tract infections. DESIGN OF STUDY: Cross-sectional, internet-based questionnaire study. SETTING: Members of the general public aged 16 years and over in the Netherlands. METHODS: Public knowledge, beliefs, and experiences of antibiotics and respiratory tract infections, as well as predictors of accurate knowledge of antibiotic effectiveness, were measured using 20 questions with sub-items. The questionnaire was given to a Dutch community-based nationwide internet panel of 15 673 individuals. Of these, 1248 eligible responders were invited to participate; 935 responders (75%) completed the questionnaire. RESULTS: Of the participants, 44.6% accurately identified antibiotics as being effective against bacteria and not viruses. Acute bronchitis was considered to require treatment with antibiotics by nearly 60% of responders. The perceived need for antibiotics for respiratory tract infection-related symptoms ranged from 6.5% for cough with transparent phlegm, to 46.2% for a cough lasting for more than 2 weeks. CONCLUSION: Public misconceptions on the effectiveness of, and indications for, antibiotics exist. Nearly half of all responders (47.8%) incorrectly identified antibiotics as being effective in treating viral infections. Doctors should be aware that unnecessary prescribing could facilitate misconceptions regarding antibiotics and respiratory tract infections. Expectations of receiving antibiotics were higher for the disease label 'acute bronchitis' than for any of the separate or combined symptoms prominently present in respiratory tract infection. Public beliefs and expectations should be taken into account when developing interventions targeting the public, patients, and physicians to reduce unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics for respiratory tract infections.


  • Cals, Jochen WL
  • Boumans, Dennis
  • Lardinois, Robert JM
  • Gonzales, Ralph
  • Hopstaken, Rogier M
  • Butler, Christopher
  • Dinant, Geert-Jan

publication date

  • December 1, 2007

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