To describe public understanding and use of antibiotics.
Ipsos MORI Capibus survey of randomly-selected households.
England, January–April 2017.
2283 adults (≥15 years) including 777 parents of children <5 years old.
Data collection and analysis
The main survey was undertaken in January 2017 (n=1691); data from an additional sample of parents were collected in April 2017 (n=592). Analyses were weighted to obtain estimates representative of the population.
Main outcome measures
Responses to questions about antibiotics (awareness and perceptions), recent illness (expectations and experience), delayed and leftover antibiotics, and child illness stratified by demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.
Most respondents (83% (1404/1691)) recognised that antibiotics kill bacteria/treat bacterial infections, but a sizeable minority (35% (592/1691)) thought that antibiotics kill viruses/treat viral infections. Overall levels of understanding have not changed substantially since similar surveys in 2003 and 2008/2009. One sixth of respondents who were prescribed antibiotics reported having leftovers (14% (64/498)) and 33% (22/64) kept these for possible future use. 1.3% of all respondents (23/1691) reported taking left-over antibiotics in the past year and 1.6% (26/1691) reported taking antibiotics obtained without a prescription. Higher social grade and educational qualifications were strongly positively associated with antibiotic knowledge; youngest (15–24 years), oldest (65 +years) and black, Asian and minority ethnic adults were less knowledgeable. Among 1319 respondents who had an infection or antibiotics within the past year, 43% (568/1319) said that they had not received any advice or information about antibiotics.
Despite many campaigns, public understanding of antibiotics in England continues to combine correct basic knowledge held by most people with less prevalent but persistent and potentially harmful misunderstandings. These could be addressed through active provision of advice and information during primary and secondary care consultations and more effective public health interventions.