Two in three Aussie workers incorrectly believe antibiotics work for colds and flu

24 June 2014

As cold and flu season gets into full swing, NPS MedicineWise is warning that a lack of understanding about when to use antibiotics — and a desire to get back to work faster after a cold or flu — could be contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance in Australia.

Polling* undertaken by Galaxy Research on behalf of NPS MedicineWise indicates that nearly two in three workers (65%) mistakenly believe that taking antibiotics will help them get over their cold or flu and back to work sooner. NPS MedicineWise is reminding people this is not the case.

“Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections, not viral infections like colds and flu — but these new findings show many people still mistakenly believe that antibiotics make a difference when they have a virus,” says Dr Andrew Boyden, NPS MedicineWise clinical advisor.

“To help prevent the growing problem of antibiotic resistance it’s important that all Australians recognise and address this misconception.

“Using antibiotics when they’re not needed, like for colds and flu, is contributing to antibiotic resistance. This is making bacterial infections, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, harder to treat with potentially dire consequences.”

The polling, released today, also showed that:

  • 71% of Gen-Y workers (aged 18 to 34) think that antibiotics will speed their return to work when they have a cold or flu compared with 60% of Baby-Boomer workers (aged 50 to 64) who were surveyed
  • Most Australian workers (94%) have gone into work when they had a cold or flu
  • 41% of Australian workers believe they have caught a cold or flu from public transport on their way to or from work

42% of Australia workers think they have caught a cold or flu by getting cold or wet, or by catching a chill —which is a popular misconception.

“You can’t catch a cold or flu from the weather yet many Australian workers seem to believe that that they have had a cold or flu from getting cold, wet or ‘catching a chill’,” says Dr Boyden.

“Colds and flu are viral infections that are spread from person to person so good hygiene is paramount.”

To help prevent the spread of colds and flu in the workplace, Dr Boyden encourages Australian workers to practise the basics of hygiene such as:

Staying at home if you are unwell

  • Using a tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing of it properly
  • Washing your hands with soap and running water, particularly after coughing or blowing your nose, and before preparing or eating food. If you don’t have access to running water, alcohol hand rub is a good alternative
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth\Not sharing cups, glasses and cutlery
  • Keeping household surfaces clean.

This winter, NPS MedicineWise is urging all Australians to take a pledge to fight antibiotic resistance. Everyone can help fight antibiotic resistance by:

  • understanding that most people don’t need antibiotics for colds and flu because they are caused by viruses
  • telling your doctor you only want an antibiotic if it is really necessary
  • taking the right dose of your antibiotic at the right time, as prescribed by your doctor

taking your antibiotics for as long as your doctor tells you to.

People can go to to take the pledge to fight antibiotic resistance and find out more about using antibiotics wisely and managing colds and flu.

* Research conducted by Galaxy Research on behalf of NPS MedicineWise. Study conducted in May 2014 involving 1,001 people. Full results available upon request.


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

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