Antibiotic use for the treatment of upper respiratory infections in a diverse community

J Fam Pract. 1999 Dec;48(12):993-6.


Background: Previous studies have not addressed whether cultural factors influence beliefs and practices related to the treatment of upper respiratory infections (URIs). The purpose of our project was to assess beliefs, care-seeking behavior, use of antibiotics, and means of obtaining antibiotics for the treatment of URIs among different ethnic groups in an urban community.

Methods: A total of 192 adults completed a self-administered questionnaire indicating their likelihood of seeking care, the perceived effectiveness of treatment methods, and their usual use of treatment regimens for 2 scenarios consistent with uncomplicated URIs. Respondents were also asked about their use of antibiotics not prescribed by a physician for a URI.

Results: A majority of subjects reported a belief in the effectiveness of antibiotics for URIs and indicated they are likely to seek care for URIs. Many (26%) had obtained antibiotics from sources other than a physician's prescription (e.g., directly from pharmacists or a supplier outside the United States). Many (31%) believed that antibiotics should be available over the counter. Individuals who reported using antibiotics for a URI were more likely than those who did not to obtain them without a prescription (35% vs. 11%, P = .001). Subjects with a cultural background from countries where antibiotics are available over the counter are more likely to use antibiotics not prescribed by a physician than those from countries with variably enforced regulations or the United States (40%, 30%, and 20%, respectively, P = .049).

Conclusions: Members of an ethnically diverse community believe antibiotics are effective for colds, are very likely to seek care for colds, and often obtain antibiotics without a prescription. The ease of antibiotic access worldwide may influence their use in some communities in the United States.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Common Cold / drug therapy*
  • Common Cold / ethnology*
  • Common Cold / psychology
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Drug Prescriptions*
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • New York
  • Self Medication* / psychology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents