MINNEAPOLIS - Parents who take their child to the clinic this year for the flu or a runny nose may be surprised with what they receive from the physician.
New prescription pads developed by the Minnesota Antibiotics Resistance Collaborative (MARC) are being used in clinics throughout Minnesota to provide information to parents about properly treating the cold or the flu, without giving unnecessary antibiotics. In addition to the prescription pads, the group has established a Web site with additional information at www.minnesotaarc.org .
With the winter cold and flu season here, physicians and public health officials are concerned that people may be tempted to seek antibiotic treatment for these illnesses. But antibiotics are not effective in treating these common viral illnesses. Over time, inappropriate use of antibiotics can even reduce the effectiveness of these important medications when they are used to treat other, more serious illnesses.
"Too often, people with severe colds or other seasonal respiratory infections ask their doctor if they can get something for their viral illness. And too often, that 'something' turns out to be an antibiotic," said Craig Christianson, medical director of UCare, and a member of MARC.
"These diseases are caused by viruses, so antibiotics are not effective in treating them," added Christianson. "Inappropriate use of these medications creates serious problems. It breeds 'super bugs' -- disease- causing bacteria that can't be treated with antibiotics."
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a growing health problem, according to state health officials. The Minnesota Department of Health has been monitoring bloodstream infections, meningitis and other serious infections due to pneumococcus in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. The percentage of pneumococci resistant to three or more antibiotic classes increased from 5 percent in 1996 to 14 percent in 2001.
"This is a very serious issue," said Ruth Lynfield, MD, chair of MARC and a medical epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health. "Misuse of antibiotics ultimately undermines their effectiveness in fighting bacterial disease. When disease organisms start to become resistant, we lose one of our most important and powerful medical tools. We can't allow that to happen."
Good supportive care is often the best strategy for dealing with a wintertime viral malady, according to Dr. David Williams, a MARC member and infectious disease specialist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School. "Let your doctor decide if you have a bacterial infection and need an antibiotic. If you have a viral infection, the best advice is to stay home, get plenty of rest, and generally take good care of yourself," said Williams.
To help people do that, MARC suggests items to include in a "cough and cold kit." A pain reliever, over-the-counter cold medication, tea, chicken soup, and other "home remedies" can be helpful in treating colds and flu symptoms. This information can be found on MARC's Web site, www.minnesotaarc.org . The Web site includes a variety of information on viral illnesses and antibiotic resistance, for adults, parents of young children, childcare providers and healthcare professionals.
The member organizations who make up MARC include Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners, Medica, Metropolitan Health Plan, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Medical Association, the Minnesota Pharmacists Association, Preferred One, Stratis Health and UCare Minnesota.
Source: Minnesota Antibiotics Resistance Collaborative