2009-10-09 / Top Stories

DOH: Use Antibiotics Wisely

If you have a cold, or the flu, antibiotics won't work for you!" This is one of the main messages the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) want people to take away from its second annual "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work Week," from October 5 to 11. Antibiotics become less effective when overused, because harmful bacteria have more opportunities to develop resistance to them. To combat this important public health problem, the Health Department will observe Get Smart Week at community events throughout the city.

"Antibiotics are intended to treat bacterial infections, not viruses like the seasonal flu and H1N1," said Marci Layton, Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Communicable Disease. "It's an important difference, and we hope the CDC's Get Smart Week will help people remember it."

Viral and bacterial infections can have similar symptoms, but the organisms that cause them are very different. When a patient takes antibiotics unnecessarily, beneficial bacteria are destroyed, but resistant germs that were present in small numbers may be left to grow and multiply, posing a risk to the patient. Antibiotic overuse also threatens communities, by speeding the emergence of bacteria that do not respond to treatment.

The number of drug-resistant bacterial strains is rising, and many commonly prescribed antibiotics are becoming less effective. Children are of particular concern, as they have the highest rate of antibiotic use, and often suffer more frequently from infections caused by antibiotic-resistant pathogens. When antibiotics fail to work, the consequences can include longer-lasting illnesses, more doctors' visits or extended hospital stays, and the need for more costly medications. Some resistant infections can even be deadly. CDC has engaged pharmacists from across the country to help get the word out. "We are very pleased to have pharmacists as partners in this important effort," said Dr. Lauri Hicks, medical director of CDC's Get Smart program. "They are extremely knowledgeable and can make a big difference in public health."

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