Canadians’ Knowledge and Awareness about Unnecessary Antibiotics

Nov 21, 2019 - Viewpoints

Choosing Wisely Canada partnered with Ipsos to survey Canadians about their knowledge, awareness, and expectations about taking antibiotics for a cold and flu.

Canadians’ Knowledge and Awareness about Unnecessary Antibiotics

Nov 21, 2019 - Viewpoints

Choosing Wisely Canada partnered with Ipsos to survey Canadians about their knowledge, awareness, and expectations about taking antibiotics for a cold and flu.

Over 90% of all antibiotics in Canada are prescribed in the community setting–meaning outside of hospitals and in settings like a family doctors office or primary care clinic. A very common reason for Canadians to visit a primary care provider is for complaints relating to the common cold and to deal with symptoms of cough, fever, runny nose, sore chest and throat.

In 2019, Choosing Wisely Canada partnered with Ipsos to survey Canadians about their knowledge, attitudes and expectations about taking antibiotics for a cough or cold. The survey was completed by 1000 Canadians who were selected to mirror the geographic and demographic diversity of our country.

The results suggest that Canadians know about the harms of unnecessary antibiotics generally, but are less aware about when this might apply to their own use of these medications. Antibiotics are designed to kill infection-causing bacteria. However, often infections are not caused by bacteria and are viral in origin. For viral infections, antibiotics will not help people get better faster and in fact can cause harm. The survey results offer useful information to advance public education and awareness building activities to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescribing. Canadians need more information to help them make good choices for themselves and their family members about when they need an antibiotic, and when they do not.

Knowledge on effectiveness of antibiotics

  • Survey respondents were split down the middle when asked whether “antibiotics kill viruses” with 50% indicating this is ‘true’ and 50% indicating this is ‘false’.
  • When presented with the statement that unnecessary antibiotic use can make antibiotics ineffective, 89% of Canadians agreed.
  • Canadians are aware of the side effects of antibiotics, with 72% correctly indicated that there are harmful side effects of antibiotics including diarrhea.

What Canadians expect when they see their doctor for a cough or cold

  • When visiting a doctor specifically for a cough or cold, three in ten (29%) expect to receive an antibiotic.
  • Generally, about half (51%) expect to receive reassurance to rule out something more serious, and many (49%) indicate that they wish to get suggestions for symptom relief through over the counter medications.

Public education about unnecessary antibiotics are reaching Canadians

  • Three in ten (30%) Canadians said that they recall receiving information about not taking antibiotics unnecessarily, for example, for a cold or the flu. One third of this group had seen this information on the internet or the news, and 25% had heard it from their doctor.