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SAN DIEGO -- Despite widespread public alarm about inappropriate use and increasing antibiotic ineffectiveness, many Americans still use the drugs improperly. One out of three Americans mistakenly believes antibiotics are effective in treating viruses like cold and flu and takes these drugs to fight them. These survey findings were released today by the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH), a not-for-profit alliance of America's leading health plans and networks.
Consumers demanding antibiotic treatment for viruses and physicians yielding to this demand have led to the over-prescribing of these drugs. According to the CDC, more than 50 percent of all antibiotics prescribed are unnecessary and can actually do more harm than good by contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
To help curb the inappropriate use of antibiotics and raise awareness of the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, CAQH, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is launching an education initiative called Save Antibiotic Strength (SAS). Local CAQH members WellPoint, Health Net and Aetna are participating in the SAS campaign by providing San Diego healthcare providers with the tools they need to educate consumers about using antibiotics wisely.
"Antibiotic resistance is a much more significant problem than most people realize," said Jeff Kamil, MD, corporate medical director of WellPoint and co-chair of the SAS Initiative in San Diego. "With many serious bacterial infections in the United States and abroad developing resistance, it's crucial that we take action now."
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 and consumers can call 1-888-WISE-USE for a free brochure. The campaign also 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 and viral infections, arms physicians with the means to effectively communicate the rationale of their diagnosis and treatment to the patient.
Local health plans are also working with the California Medical Association Foundation's Alliance Working for Antibiotic Resistance Education (AWARE) Project to spread the word about antibiotic resistance to consumers. The partnership includes collaboration on a speaker's bureau, which will make medical experts available to the community to address safe antibiotic use.
"Working together, we can raise awareness of this critical public health issue in San Diego," said Ralph Ocampo, MD, CMA Foundation board member and past president of the CMA. "We need to be vigilant in our communication with healthcare providers and the community. Everyone must understand the threat we face if our current antibiotics become ineffective. It will be like returning to a time when we did not have antibiotics."
According to the survey results released today 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.
Traditionally known to be powerful medications in reducing illness and death from infectious bacterial diseases, antibiotics still kill bacteria that cause infection in most cases. However, many bacteria are now fighting off antibiotics that once worked well against them, making them harder for physicians to treat. 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
Additional information about antibiotic resistance and SAS is available on the Internet at www.caqh.org/antibioticsinfo .
The Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH) is a not-for-profit alliance of America's leading health plans and networks committed to improving the quality of healthcare and reducing administrative burdens for patients, physicians and payers. Created in 1999, CAQH member organizations provide healthcare coverage for more than 100 million Americans. CAQH created the Save Antibiotic Strength campaign in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA), and other leading community and healthcare organizations across the country to provide Americans with the information they need to use antibiotics wisely.