Knowledge of antibiotics in the countries of the EU

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This chapter looks at Europeans’ awareness and understanding of antibiotics – what they can andcannot do, whether unnecessary use leads to ineffectiveness, whether they have side effects andwhen a course of antibiotics should be stopped.

Respondents were read a series of statements about antibiotics, and asked to say if each was ‘true or ‘false’:

§ Antibiotics kill viruses (correct answer: FALSE)

§ Antibiotics are effective against colds (correct answer: FALSE)

§ Unnecessary use of antibiotics makes them become ineffective (correct answer: TRUE)

§ Taking antibiotics often has side-effects, such as diarrhea (correct answer: TRUE)

1. Do antibiotics kill viruses?

Across the EU just over two-fifths of respondents (43%) correctly say that it is false that antibiotics kill viruses, while a slightly larger proportion (48%) incorrectly think that it is true that antibiotics kill viruses. One in eleven respondents (9%) were unable to express an opinion.

Since 2016 there has been no change in the proportion correctly saying that it is false that antibioticskill viruses. There has been a small increase in the proportion incorrectly thinking that it is true (+2percentage points), with a corresponding decrease in the proportion unable to express an opinion (-2pp).

There is widespread variation at a national level.

2. Are antibiotics effective against colds?

Two thirds (66%) of respondents across the EU correctly say that it is false that antibiotics are effective at treating colds. Around a quarter (28%) gave the incorrect answer (thinking that it is true that antibiotics are effective against colds), with a small minority (6%) unable to express an opinion.

As seen in relation to opinions about the effectiveness of antibiotics on viruses, there is widespreadnational variation about their effectiveness on colds.

There are six countries where at least eight in ten respondents know that antibiotics do not kill colds: Sweden (85%), Finland (84%), the Netherlands (83%), Belgium and Luxembourg (both 81%), andDenmark (80%).

The majority of respondents in a further 12 Member States correctly say that it isfalse that antibiotics are effective at treating colds. Countries where respondents are least likely togive the correct answer are Bulgaria (41%), Greece (39%) and Portugal (37%).

3. Does unnecessary use of antibiotics make them becomeineffective?

Across all Member States at least seven in ten respondents correctly identify that unnecessaryantibiotic use leads to their ineffectiveness. Indeed, almost all respondents in Greece (97%), and Sweden and the Netherlands (both 96%) are correct, and at least nine in ten respondents in a furthereight Member States know this to be the case. Respondents in Romania (74%) and Italy (70%) areleast likely to give the correct answer

4. Does taking antibiotics often result in side-effects such as diarrhea?

Around two thirds of Europeans know that taking antibiotics often leads to side effects,such as diarrhea

Overall levels of knowledge on the use of antibiotics

source: Special Eurobarometer 478

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