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The Superbug Crisis

False Beliefs about Antibiotics Are a Global Threat

Matthew Nisbet is associate professor of communication at Northeastern University and a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry scientific consultant. From 1997 to 1999, he was public relations director for CSI.

As millions of Americans visit their health care providers this winter complaining of a cold, surveys suggest that one in four will be expecting their provider to prescribe them an antibiotic, falsely believing that the antibiotic will help them recover more quickly from the virus (Watkins et al. 2015). The demand for antibiotics by patients is not surprising, considering other survey findings. Only about half of Americans know correctly that antibiotics kill bacteria but not viruses, a proportion that has remained relatively stable for more than a decade (Hwang et al. 2015).

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