Unveiling Misconceptions: The Truth About Antibiotics and the Common Cold


Anne Meneghetti, MD, highlights the misconceptions that drive individuals to seek antibiotics for common colds sooner than necessary.

In a recent survey conducted by Epocrates, a surprising trend emerged regarding people's expectations and perceptions about the common cold. To shed light on these findings and discuss their implications, Infection Control Today® (ICT®), sits down with Anne Meneghetti, MD, the executive director of medical information at Epocrates. She shares insights from the survey, revealing how misconceptions about the duration and treatment of cold symptoms impact health care decisions.

Meneghetti told ICT that because the media has discussed long COVID so often recently, she suspected that individuals may not understand how long a cold normally lasts. She is speaking of the “typical symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, congestion, and cough.” Epocrates’ recent survey verified her hunch.

“And so we did this survey of 1000 adults to ask them, ‘How long do you think a cold should last? And how long before you get concerned that something's wrong and that you need to seek care, etc?’ And the results were surprising. Typically, a cold should last anywhere up to 10 to 14 days. And yet, most people have a much different impression. Usually, [they believe] cold symptoms will peak around 2 to 3 days, and then the results start getting better and resolving.”

However, Meneghetti said that isn’t correct. “And yet, especially cough, nasal congestion, and runny nose can persist for 10 to 14 days. And I don't think a lot of people realize that. So, as time goes on, many people begin to think something is wrong and [that] they need an antibiotic. When we surveyed these 1000 adults, 43% of them expected that a cold [should] be gone within 5 days, and 35% more expected a cold to maybe last a week. And only 6% believed that cold symptoms should last up to 14 days.”

Then, ICT and Meneghetti discussed why these misconceptions seem to linger and how prescribing antibiotics when they are not needed affects antimicrobial resistance [AMR]. She believed it is because “I do think that it's quicker to write a prescription than it is to explain all these things. But what this survey shows is that 70% of people are sensitive to the concept that taking an antibiotic unnecessarily might not only harm them in terms of side effects or drug interactions but taking an antibiotic unnecessarily contributes to antimicrobial resistance for their future, their community's future, [and] for their loved ones’ future. And that's really heartening that hearing [about AMR] makes a difference to them. And it does take more time and writing a prescription for sure.”

To find out more about AMR, check out ICT's coverage, including this ICT article.

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