Nearly two-thirds of people questioned in the 12-country survey said they had heard about antibiotic resistance as an issue that could affect them.
But the survey also shows that people are confused about how and when to use antibiotic drugs.
Around 64 percent believe, for example, that antibiotics could be used to treat colds and flu, despite the drugs having no effect on viruses.
Around a third of people surveyed also wrongly believed they should stop taking antibiotics when they feel better, rather than completing the prescribed treatment course.
“The findings … point to the urgent need to improve understanding around antibiotic resistance,” said Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s special representative for antimicrobial resistance. The WHO has stepped up its fight against antibiotic resistance with a new global campaign called “Antibiotics: Handle with Care.”
Nearly half of those polled also believe that antibiotic resistance is only an issue for people who take antibiotics on a regular basis.
“The rise of antibiotic resistance is a global health crisis, and governments now recognize it as one of the greatest challenges for public health today,” WHO chief Margaret Chan said in a statement, stressing that resistance was “reaching dangerously high levels in all parts of the world.”
“Antibiotic resistance is compromising our ability to treat infectious diseases and undermining many advances in medicine,” she said.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria mutate and adapt, ultimately becoming resistant to antibiotics used to treat infections.
Overuse and misuse of antibiotics exacerbate the development of drug resistant bacteria, often called superbugs.
Superbug infections – including multi-drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis, typhoid and gonorrhea – kill hundreds of thousands of people a year, and the trend is growing.
The WHO surveyed 10,000 people across 12 countries – Barbados, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, Sudan and Vietnam.
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