Antibiotic literacy
æntɪbaɪˈɒtɪk ˈlɪtərəsi  

noun. The ability to understand, evaluate, and apply information about appropriate antibiotic use and how to prevent antibiotic resistance.


 “More than half of the patients we surveyed already knew that antibiotics don’t work against viruses, but still took antibiotics ‘just in case’.”[1]


‘“High levels of antibiotic resistance and low levels of ‘antibiotic literacy’ in the general public are on a dangerous collision course.”[2]


Learning point

Do you know about antibiotics?


Most of us have used antibiotics at least once in our lives. However, antibiotic resistance continues to be a problem around the world, where the connection between drug-resistant bacteria and our body is often misunderstood.


Many people are confused by what antibiotic resistance is and what we can do to prevent it. A global survey of 10,000 respondents from 12 countries, conducted by the WHO, found that two-thirds of participants had low ‘antibiotic literacy’.[1] One-third of respondents wrongly believed that it was fine to stop taking antibiotics once they felt better, rather than completing the full course. About three-quarters of participants believed, incorrectly, that ‘antibiotic resistance’ was defined as a person’s body becoming resistant to antibiotics.[1]


People continue to ignore the problem of antibiotic resistance. A popular misconception that a person’s body can become resistant to a drug, has given rise to another misconception that resistance is only a problem for those who actively take antibiotics.[2] In fact, the bacteria have developed antibiotic resistance – not people’s bodies – and these antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread from person to person. You may acquire a drug-resistant infection even if you don’t use antibiotics.


Box 1: How much do you know about the appropriate use of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance?



  1. Antibiotics can cure the common cold [True or False]
  2. Antibiotic resistance happens when my body becomes resistant to antibiotics [True or False]
  3. Your antibiotic use can cause antibiotic resistance [True or False]
  4. Antibiotic use in animal agriculture can cause antibiotic resistance [True or False]
  5. Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection can spread to humans by contact with a person who has antibiotic-resistant bacteria [True or False]
  6. Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection can spread to humans by contact with a live animal, food or water carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria [True or False]
  7. Keeping my vaccinations up to date, washing my hands properly and regularly, and keeping myself clean and hygienic can support the world tackling with antibiotic resistance [True or False]


Correct Answers:

1. False. The common cold is mostly caused by viruses. Antibiotics cannot kill viruses, and do not shorten the duration of illness or improve symptoms.

2. False. The overuse of antibiotics does not cause your body to be resistant to antibiotics. It causes the bacteria to be resistant to antibiotics, where the antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread from person-to-person.

3. True. Both appropriate and inappropriate use of antibiotic can cause antibiotic resistance. 

4. True. Antibiotic used in animal agriculture can cause antibiotic-resistant organisms in animals, human, and environment.

5. True. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread to human by contacting with another human that are carrying them.

6. True. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread to humans by direct/indirect contacting with animals, via touching, eating, and through the environment.

7. True. Prevention of infectious disease is one of the best methods to prevent antimicrobial resistance.



Do educate yourself about the antibiotics that you are taking to understand what organisms they are effective against, their side effects, and their potential impact on society. Antibiotic resistance not only affects you, your friends, and your family but also has a potentially devastating impact on the environment and everyone around the world.



1 WHO. (n.d.). Antibiotic Resistance: Multi-Country Public Awareness Survey. ISBN 978 92 4 150981 7

2 Ramsey, L. (2017, February 23). A growing threat could kill 10 million people a year by 2050. Retrieved from



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