Study: Misconceptions about antibiotics linked to poor health literacy levels in Latino population

NEW YORK — A recent study found that poor heath literacy among Latino parents is associated with incorrect beliefs on the proper use of antibiotics, particularly for upper respiratory infections, which can lead to an increase in antimicrobial resistance.

Conducted in the predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods of upper Manhattan where “bodegas” offer easy access to unregulated antibiotics, the study by researchers at the Columbia University School of Nursing and Department of Pediatrics found that 1-out-of-3 participants had poor health literacy when measured by reading comprehension, and even lower scores when measured by numerical proficiency. In addition, those with inadequate health literacy levels held incorrect beliefs about the use of antibiotics.

Latinos are more likely to take antibiotics without a prescription, previous research has shown, since many have emigrated from countries where it is common to buy antibiotics over the counter without a prescription, according to the study. URIs are caused by viral infections and are not responsive to antibiotics, which are used to treat bacteria-borne illness.

Evidence suggests that Latino parents with limited English proficiency are more likely to have inadequate health literacy. In addition, Latino parents have been shown to be significantly more likely to expect antibiotic treatment for a child in comparison with non-Hispanic white parents, according to the study.

 “Injudicious use of antibiotics, including antimicrobial treatment of viral URI in pediatric settings, has contributed to the public health threat of antimicrobial resistance,” wrote the study’s lead author Ann-Margaret Dunn-Navarra of the Columbia University School of Nursing. "Enhanced parent education on appropriate antibiotic treatment is critical if the health disparities in children of minority families are going to be corrected.”