There’s seemingly nothing more basic than deciding on a course of treatment for most basic infections. Is it viral, like the common cold or flu? Too bad you didn’t get a vaccine (if one exists), but your best bet is to ride it out under the care of a medical professional. Is it bacterial, like malaria? If so, then an antibiotic treatment may be in order. It’s relatively simple, yet according to a new CDC study, many Americans (including nearly half of all Hispanics) think antibiotics are helpful in treating viral infections.
The CDC sent out surveys to 4,703 U.S. consumers in 2012, 4,420 U.S. consumers in 2013, 2,609 Hispanic consumers, and 3,149 health care providers. All in all, Americans have a strange relationship with antibiotics, though Hispanic consumers have more faith in them than average. 17% of the general population believed that they should take antibiotics when they have a cold in order to prevent a more serious illness, compared with 48% of Hispanics. However, 25% of American consumers believe that antibiotics help them get better faster, compared to nearly half (48%) of Hispanics surveyed.
Our strange obsession with antibiotics extends to the doctor’s office when visiting for a cough or cold: 26% of Americans expect an antibiotic from their doctor to treat their cough or cold; 41% of Hispanics expect the same. Doctors tell a different story, claiming that 54% of their patients expect an antibiotic during a visit.
Hispanics are also more likely to get antibiotics from a non-physician source – 25% say they retain them from previous prescriptions, while 40% say they get them from either a neighborhood grocery store, family member or friend.
In all, antibiotic use (and overuse) is a growing matter of concern in the U.S. Over-reliance on the drugs or, even worse, using them when they aren’t necessary contributes to the growth and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Furthermore, because antibiotics can be somewhat indiscriminate, there’s a risk they’ll kill “good” bacteria within the body as well as the bad.
As for why Hispanic consumers are so antibiotic-obsessed, the CDC provides no explanation. There may be, however, a silver lining: Despite their popularity, antibiotics are at the top of no one’s list in terms of their expectations of healthcare providers.
“However, the fact that consumers were more likely to expect reassurance (all consumers) or suggestions for symptom relief (Hispanic consumers) suggests that provider counseling, rather than an antibiotic prescription, is paramount in consumer satisfaction,” the authors wrote.