The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Get Smart Virginia program are urging consumers to become educated this cold and flu season about the misuse of antibiotics. Additionally, Governor Mark Warner has declared October 2004 Antibiotic Awareness Month in an effort to increase the public’s knowledge about the growing problem of resistance to antibiotic medications.
“It’s a confusing topic. The Get Smart Virginia program hopes to help consumers by providing information that explains when and how antibiotics should be used,” said State Health Commissioner Robert B. Stroube, M.D., M.P.H. “People need to know that taking an antibiotic for a viral infection does more harm than good.”
According to VDH, penicillin-type antibiotics do not work for one out of three people who receive them. The inappropriate use of antibiotics accelerates antibiotic resistance, which causes infections that are more difficult to treat. The result is antibiotics may take longer to work or are ineffective at treating serious infections.
Antibiotics are only helpful when used to treat bacterial infections and when taken exactly as prescribed. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic for a bacterial infection you should finish the entire prescription even if you are feeling better. Never share or take leftover antibiotics.
Upper respiratory infections, both viral and bacterial, are common during the winter months. Individuals can reduce their chances of becoming ill by washing their hands frequently to help stop the spread of infections, making sure all immunizations are current, and considering an annual flu shot.
“We want to remind people that antibiotics do not work for viral infections like coughs, colds and the flu,” Dr. Stroube stressed. “It is not uncommon for it to take up to two weeks for someone to get better from a viral infection. Antibiotics are not necessary for these infections and won’t reduce the symptoms or stop the spread of the infection.”