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Parental misconceptions about antibiotic use are widespread, but they may be modifiable by clinicians and the media

Some parents are more likely than others to pressure doctors to prescribe antibiotics for their children when they are not needed, and parental misconceptions about proper antibiotic use are widespread, according to a study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10247). However, these misconceptions are potentially modifiable by clinicians and media sources, note the Harvard Medical School researchers who conducted the study. They surveyed parents in 16 Massachusetts communities about antibiotic-related knowledge, attitudes, and use during a 12-month period; their access to health information; and their demographic profiles.

A total of 1,106 parents responded to the survey. One-third of parents incorrectly believed that antibiotics could be helpful for viral illnesses (for example, most cases of bronchitis), and more than three-quarters believed antibiotics were needed for treatment of green nasal discharge in the absence of fever or other signs of illness. Nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of parents gave responses suggesting a tendency to demand unnecessary antibiotics for their child.

Greater knowledge about antibiotics was associated with increased parental age and education, having more than one child, white race, and receipt of information through the media on antibiotic resistance. Factors associated with a tendency to demand antibiotics included decreased knowledge, pressure from day care settings, lack of alternatives offered by clinicians, and lack of access to media information. Medicaid-insured parents were less knowledgeable about antibiotics than commercially insured parents, and they were more likely to report pressure from schools or day care to obtain antibiotics, more overall antibiotic prescriptions, and receipt of less information on antibiotic resistance through the media. These findings underscore the need to educate parents, particularly those in underserved communities, about appropriate treatment of infections.

See "Correlates of parental antibiotic knowledge, demand, and reported use," by Marianne Kuzujanakis, M.D., M.P.H., Ken Kleinman, Sc.D., Sheryl Rifas-Shiman, M.P.H., and Jonathan A. Finkelstein, M.D., M.P.H., in the July 2003 Ambulatory Pediatrics 3(4), pp. 203-210.

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