Use and perceptions of antibiotics for upper respiratory infections among college students

J Fam Pract. 2001 Jan;50(1):32-7.


Background: Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are mainly viral in nature, rendering antibiotics ineffective. Little is known about what college students believe concerning the effectiveness of antibiotics as a treatment for URIs.

Methods: Students (n=425) on 3 college campuses were surveyed using a survey describing 3 variations in presentation of an uncomplicated URI. Participants were questioned about their likelihood of using a variety of treatments for the URI and about their likelihood of seeking a physician's care.

Results: The percentage of students endorsing antibiotic use differed significantly by symptom complex. Likelihood of seeking medical care also differed significantly across symptom groups, with greater endorsement in the discolored nasal discharge and low-grade fever scenarios. Stepwise multiple regression analysis revealed that belief in antibiotic effectiveness for cold symptoms decreased with tic and Therapeutic increasing years of higher education. Likelihood of antibiotic use across different scenarios increased with age. Likelihood of seeking care across different scenarios was related to type of health insurance and belief in antibiotic effectiveness.

Conclusions: Undergraduate college students show poor recognition of typical presentations of the common cold and have misconceptions about effective treatment. Although increasing years of college correlated with decreasing belief in antibiotics' effectiveness for a cold, more health education at the college level is recommended.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Utilization
  • Female
  • Health Education
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / drug therapy*
  • Students*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents