A recent Harris survey reveals that 61% of children aged eight to eighteen think that viruses can be stopped by antibiotics. The Harris Interactive summary explains why this matters (italics mine):
Today’s young people, tweens (ages 8 to 12) and teens (ages 13 to 18) are raised in a world where potentially deadly viruses frequently make news headlines. In addition to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), recent public attention has also focused on viruses such as those which cause bird flu (avian influenza), Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis C (HepC). Prevention messages often target youth and the success of this messaging may well be influenced by kids’ and teens’ assessment of their own risk and their understanding of what viruses are. Recently, Harris Interactive posed a series of questions to young people about viruses and the illnesses they cause. An astonishing 61 percent of youths agree that antibiotics can protect them from catching a virus. This result and others indicate that youths do not necessarily recognize the differences between viruses and other causal agents of illness (such as bacteria), and their beliefs regarding the efficacy of prevention options reflect this.
In other words, a lot of kids believe that serious viral diseases can be cured with antibiotics, when, in fact, treatment is difficult or non-existent. I’m hoping this is the optimism of the young, combined with ignorance. The good news, at least, is that most kids (>95%) think that handwashing can prevent viral transmission. If there were one public health measure I wish would be widely adopted, it would be handwashing.
Come to think of it, since I’ve been in the new digs, I haven’t ranted once about handwashing. I might have to do something about that…