Research carried out by Public Health England (PHE) for European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) revealed widespread misconceptions about the use of antibiotics by the public.
Approximately 1,625 adults in England participated in the survey, which was conducted to assess knowledge, attitudes and how people use antibiotics.
The new study showed that four in ten people take antibiotics for a cough or runny nose, when both conditions can normally be cured without treatment.
PHE’s survey also revealed that 90% of people do not know that bacteria resistant to antibiotics spread easily from person to person, and one in seven are unaware that healthy people can harbour these bacteria.
According to the survey, four in ten people believe antibiotics can be used for the treatment of viral infections, while 17% trust that they can be used as an anti-inflammatory agent.
It also showed that 4% believed they can treat asthma, fever and headaches, while 26% believed that they can treat fungal infections.
Approximately four in ten individuals aged 15-24 reported taking antibiotics, which were not prescribed for them, compared to one in ten people over 25.
PHE primary care unit head Dr Cliodna McNulty said: "The misconception that antibiotics are a cure-all for all ills is proving to be a very difficult myth to shift.
"There is relatively good awareness that antibiotics are for the treatment of bacterial infections but there is still a strong belief that they can also help with viral infections and other symptoms which they cannot."
Results of the survey show greater emphasis on the need for awareness about antibiotics, their use and what conditions they can be used for.
Image: PHE survey showed widespread public misconceptions about antibiotic use. Photo: courtesy of Public Health England.