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FOR RELEASE: September 17, 2003
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Get Smart Antibiotics Awareness Campaign Launched

As cold and flu season approaches, the Oklahoma State Department of Health is joining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help build awareness of the appropriate use of antibiotics.

Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work is a national public education campaign designed to help Americans become better informed about antibiotic treatment, especially during the cold and flu season. The campaign’s key message is a basic medical fact: antibiotics do not effectively treat colds, flu and other viral illnesses. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, make patients with viral infections feel better, yield a faster recovery, or keep others from getting sick. Instead, the inappropriate use of antibiotics is fueling an increase in drug-resistant bacteria that threaten widespread drug-resistant illness.

“Recent research tells us that most Americans don’t understand that antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. “People go to the doctor expecting to get antibiotics for a sick child or themselves. Many times, a prescription for antibiotics is the wrong course of treatment.”

Beitsch said the Oklahoma State Department of Health is using the Get Smart campaign as an opportunity to reach parents of children ages 2 to 6, an age group that has a high percentage of illnesses that may have traditionally been treated with antibiotics.

Tens of millions of the antibiotics prescribed in doctor’s offices are for viral infections that are not treatable with antibiotics. Doctors cite diagnostic uncertainty, time pressure and patient demand as the primary reasons for this over-prescription.

“Antibiotics are powerful drugs that can work wonders when you need them for bacterial infections,” said Becky Coffman, RN, MPH, nurse epidemiologist and Get Smart project coordinator. “But please don’t insist on antibiotics when your doctor tells you or a family member that the illness is caused by a virus, such as a cold or the flu.”

Coffman explained that taking antibiotics when they are not needed creates additional health risks. The best treatment for most viral illnesses is simply to treat the symptoms with plenty of rest, fluids, cough medicine and/or an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Over the past decade, inappropriate use of antibiotics has resulted in almost every type of bacteria becoming stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it is needed. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread through a community, introducing a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat.

“Oklahomans of all ages can lower this risk by learning about appropriate antibiotic use and taking antibiotics only when they are needed, especially during this cold and flu season,” Coffman said.

For more information, check out these Web sites: www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/ar/index.html and www.cdc.gov/GetSmart

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