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Hyderabad, December 17,2014 (PTI)  Researchers from George Washington, Cornell and Johns Hopkins universities surveyed 113 patients in an urban hospital to test their understanding of antibiotics. They discovered a widespread misconception - patients may want antibiotics, even if they know that, if they have a viral infection, the drugs may not make them better. These patients believed that taking the medication will not worsen their condition and that the risk of taking unnecessary antibiotics does not outweigh the possibility that they may help.

They also found that most public health educational materials may not address these misconceptions which drives doctors to prescribe them more often. According to David Broniatowski, Assistant Professor in GW's School of Engineering and Applied Science, "Patients figure that taking antibiotics can't hurt, and just might might make them fell better. When they come in for treatment, they are usually feeling pretty bad and looking for anything that can improve their condition." 

 "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. 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," Broniatowski added. Broniatowski's research found that most educational tools used to communicate the dangers of taking unnecessary antibiotics focus on the differences between bacteria and viruses - the idea that "germs are germs" - but do not address patients' widespread "why not take a risk" belief. He suggests, "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."

The study urges members of the public health community to reconsider their communication tactics and adjust educational materials to address patients' concerns and beliefs.

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