DETROIT -- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan today released data showing unnecessary use of antibiotics declined from 61 percent in 1998 to 56 percent in 2001. This information comes from a study that included claims data of nearly 190,000 Michigan patients who went to their doctors for acute respiratory infections.
The highest 2001 rate, 64 percent, was in Monroe, Michigan, and the lowest, 50 percent, was in Petoskey, Michigan.
The Blues looked at antibiotic use for patients who had a diagnosis of common cold, upper respiratory infection or acute bronchitis. These conditions usually are caused by viruses and antibiotics are ineffective in treating them. Antibiotic overuse is a public health threat because it contributes to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.
"As a community, we're doing better at decreasing inappropriate use but we still have a long way to go," said David Share, MD, a physician-researcher at the Michigan Blues. "It appears that the community is becoming more aware of the problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics and they're at last understanding that the way to fight it is by reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics."
The Harvard School of Public Health last weekend released a national study of antibiotic overuse and drug-resistance. In reporting their findings, the authors warned that experts predict a sharp jump in the strains of a dangerous form of strep that can overcome two common antibiotics.
Antibiotics are powerful medicines with one mission -- fighting bacteria -- yet misuse and over-prescribing antibiotics for viral ailments has caused bacteria to become resistant to these drugs. According to the Harvard Study, by the summer of 2004, as many as 40 percent of the strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae could be resistant to both penicillin and erythromycin, researchers warn. This specific form of strep causes thousands of cases of meningitis, sinusitis, ear infections and pneumonia every year.
"The Harvard study is, unfortunately, right on target and we must do all we can to prevent resistance from spreading," said Share. "Fortunately, many organizations along with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network have recognized this problem for sometime now and are working to raise public awareness by releasing data and warning of the consequences of overuse."
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has been sending antibiotic data to physicians statewide, with focused efforts in Lansing and Flint as well as Muskegon, Lapeer and Shiawasee counties, for the past four years.
Rates of drug-resistant germs continue to rise in the United States, according to researchers from Harvard, who studied reports in eight states, measuring how common drug resistance increased from 1996 to 1999. However, according to Share, there are steps that doctors and patients alike can take to prevent further increase of drug resistance.
* Recognize that you don't always need an antibiotic. Remember that
antibiotics are "anti-bacterial" which means they cannot fight viral
infections like colds and flu. Viruses cause most colds and flu; most
coughs and sore throats; some earaches; bronchitis and laryngitis.
Bacteria, on the other hand, are most often the culprit for strep
throat, urinary tract infections and most ear infections
* If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, take it exactly as directed,
even if you start to feel better
* Never share your medication or save it for later use
* Wash your hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing, to help
stop the spread of colds
* To treat a cold or flu, get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and
take over-the-counter-remedies for symptom relief
* Get a flu immunization
Source: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan