Know when to use antibiotics

November 15, 2010, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated November 15, 11:45 AM
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Cold and flu season is upon us and the state Department of Health wants to remind the public to Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work.  It’s a nation-wide program that kicks off today through Nov. 21 and is reaching out to parents, pharmacists and health care providers to gently remind them that not every cold or flu symptom needs antibiotics to get better.

Overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics can lead to resistance, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Antibiotics should not be used to treat viral infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health concerns.

“When used correctly, antibiotics work with amazing results on patients with bacterial infections,” said Dr. Chiyome Leinaala Fukino, director of the state Department of Health. “When parents and physicians misuse these powerful medications, they become less effective in the future.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 50 percent of the people who visited their doctor for upper respiratory infections received an antibiotic prescription. But most upper respiratory infections are caused by a virus. Antibiotics work on bacterial infections, not viral, which can’t be cured with antibiotics.

Over the years, almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family and co-workers and threaten the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is difficult to cure.

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Taking antibiotics when they are not warranted can lead to resistance and can cause problems when the drug is really needed.

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“Antibiotics are powerful drugs,” Fukino said. “We need to be smart about antibiotic use and use other remedies to fight flu and cold symptoms.”

If your healthcare provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms.  An essential part of preventing the spread of colds and flu in the community and at home is proper hygiene, including hand-washing and cleaning shared items and surfaces.  Stay at home when you’re sick.

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