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ARLINGTON, Va. — As cold and flu season starts, infectious diseases experts are helping educate the public and their healthcare providers about what will and won’t help people get over these common infections. With antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” on the rise, it’s important to reduce misuse of antibiotics in order to preserve them for situations where they are truly needed.
“Antibiotics have worked so well for so many infections that they have developed a reputation as a cure-all,” said IDSA president Donald M. Poretz, MD. “But they are a finite resource. Bacteria inevitably develop resistance to whatever antibiotics we use. And the more we use them, the sooner we lose them.”
That’s why IDSA is supporting “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work” Week, Oct. 6-10, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to CDC, three-quarters of all antibiotics prescriptions made by office-based physicians are for upper respiratory infections: sore throats, runny noses, congestion, earaches, and the like. Unfortunately, many of these infections are caused by viruses—which means antibiotics won’t help. Even bacterial versions of these infections usually go away on their own, without antibiotics.
“Not only are antibiotics of little value for most upper respiratory infections,” Poretz said, “but taking them when they are not needed—or not taking them as prescribed—can, in fact, do harm.”
Using antibiotics when they are not needed increases the likelihood that they won’t work when they are needed. Inappropriate use speeds up the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a growing threat to public health. Furthermore, no drug is perfectly safe, and antibiotics are no exception. A recent CDC study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases estimates 142,000 emergency room visits a year are caused by allergic reactions to antibiotics and other adverse events.
“In most cases, fluids, rest, and common over-the-counter remedies are a better prescription than antibiotics,” Poretz said. “For serious cases, if your doctor does prescribe antibiotics, make sure you take the entire course—even if you feel better. Stopping early helps antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop. Don’t save any unused antibiotics, and don’t take antibiotics that weren’t prescribed for you.”
Poretz added, “Wash your hands, cover your cough, get your flu shot, and stay home if you’re sick. These are some of the best things you can do to help stop the spread of infections.”