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New survey shows one-third of Americans use antibiotics inappropriately

ATLANTA, GA., Feb. 6, 2003 -- Findings of a new survey show one out of three Americans mistakenly believes antibiotics are effective in treating viruses like cold and flu and takes these drugs to fight them.

Along with the survey, a partnership of Georgia health plans announced a new public education initiative designed to raise awareness of the problems associated with inappropriate use of antibiotics and help prevent the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The initiative, entitled Save Antibiotic Strength (SAS), will help educate the public and physicians alike to fight this significant public health problem. The partnership effort involves local member health plans of the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH), a not-for-profit alliance of America's leading health plans and networks, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Health plans participating in the SAS effort include Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Beech Street Corporation, CIGNA HealthCare and GreatWest.
"Antibiotic resistance is a much more significant problem than most people realize," said Bob McCormack, M.D., medical director of quality management at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia and co-chair of the SAS initiative. "With many serious bacterial infections in the United States developing resistance, it's crucial that we take action now."

Patients demanding antibiotic treatment for viruses and physicians yielding to this demand have led to over-prescribing, which can cause devastating consequences because bacteria begin to develop resistance to these life-saving drugs. According to the World Health Organization, two Americans die each hour from infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The SAS campaign features a variety of educational materials and community outreach programs promoting appropriate antibiotic use among healthcare providers and patients. A public service announcement will air on local radio stations in Georgia and patients can call 1-888-WISE-USE for a free brochure.

To help physicians educate their patients about the proper use of antibiotics and the consequences of inappropriate use, the SAS campaign features a physician toolkit with a "prescription" pad for patients with symptoms of viral infections. The "prescription," accompanied by the tool kit's patient Q&A handouts and physician treatment guidelines for common bacterial (e.g. strep throat) and viral (e.g. common cold) infections, arms physicians with the means to effectively communicate the rationale of their diagnosis and treatment to the patient.

"Public demand for antibiotics plays a major role in their overuse," said Joel Goldstein, M.D., pediatrician and member of the Infectious Disease Committee of the Georgia Chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics. "By bringing together physicians and community and healthcare organizations, we can educate consumers about why antibiotics are not useful for fighting viral infections. Unless we act now to educate how inappropriate use leads to antibiotic resistant bacteria, these life-saving drugs will ultimately be of little use."

According to the survey results released by CAQH, there is a great deal of misinformation among consumers concerning the appropriate use of antibiotics. The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, also showed that one-third of Americans has stopped taking an antibiotic before finishing the full amount prescribed. Of those who did not finish their medication, 64 percent said that they stopped taking it because they were feeling better, and 44 percent said that they save the leftover medication for the next time they are ill.

Not finishing a prescribed treatment of antibiotics contributes to the development of resistant bacteria.

The CDC recommends that consumers talk to their healthcare providers about the appropriate use of antibiotics and follow some basic guidelines to help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance including:

  • Use antibiotics only when prescribed by a healthcare provider.
  • Take all of the antibiotics prescribed, even if feeling better. If the full dose of the medication is not taken, there is a risk of re-infection and a greater likelihood that antibiotic-resistant bacteria will develop. Never save "leftovers" for future use.
  • Never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
  • Don't pressure doctors to prescribe antibiotics to treat symptoms of a cold, flu or other viral illness.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often to help prevent illness and the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Check with your pediatrician to confirm your children are up-to-date on their immunizations.

Source: Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare

Posted: February 2003