Arlington, Va.—As the influenza season begins, infectious diseases experts are helping educate consumers and health care providers about when antibiotics can help—and how misuse of these important drugs can do more harm than good. Every year, tens of thousands of people are prescribed antibiotics for infections caused by viruses, which antibiotics do not work against.
“Right now, lots of people are coming down with common colds or influenza, which are caused by viruses. But antibiotics only work against bacterial infections, so if you have a cold or the flu, antibiotics simply won’t work for you,” said Anne Gershon, MD, FIDSA, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). “With antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ on the rise, it’s more important now than ever to use these medications wisely and preserve them for situations where they are truly needed.”
That’s why IDSA is supporting “Get Smart About Antibiotics Week,” Oct. 5-11, organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to raise awareness about reducing unnecessary antibiotic use, which speeds up the development of drug-resistant bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphlococcus aureus (MRSA), a growing threat to public health. Like all drugs, antibiotics also carry the risk of allergic reactions or other adverse events.
IDSA applauds those who attended CDC’s first-ever retail pharmacy summit on Oct. 1, which brought together retail pharmacy chains, including Rite-Aid, Kroger, Giant Eagle, and Giant/Stop and Shop, as well as non-profits and advocacy groups committed to reducing the spread of antibiotic resistance. Pharmacists, who are easily accessible to the public, play an important role in educating consumers about antibiotics and promoting their responsible use.
While some grocery store chains are again offering free antibiotics this flu season, IDSA suggests a better alternative—free flu vaccinations—to help consumers save money and protect their health. A Canadian program offering free influenza vaccines was associated with a 64 percent drop in flu-related antibiotic prescriptions, according to a study in the Sept. 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases. Flu-related mortality fell by 39 percent, while hospitalizations, emergency department use, and doctors’ office visits due to flu declined by an average of 52 percent.
“For most people who get sick, fluids, rest, and over-the-counter remedies are a better prescription than antibiotics,” Dr. Gershon said. “With more than half of all U.S. states now reporting widespread influenza activity, the best ways to help prevent infections are to wash your hands often, cover your cough, get vaccinated against influenza, and stay home if you’re sick.”
More information about CDC’s “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work” campaign is available online.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) is an organization of physicians, scientists, and other health care professionals dedicated to promoting health through excellence in infectious diseases research, education, patient care, prevention and public health. The Society, which has more than 8,600 members, was founded in 1963 and is based in Arlington, Va. For more information, see www.idsociety.org.
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