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DHS news release

January 27, 2004

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180
Technical contact: Mel Kohn (503) 731-4024

Survey indicates most Oregonians uninformed about health issues related to antibiotics


The majority of Oregonians are unaware that misuse of antibiotics is helping feed a new public health problem, drug resistant bacteria, according to survey findings from the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS).

"These new superbugs are a serious health issue," said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist in DHS. They cause illnesses that are hard to treat, requiring stronger, potentially dangerous medications and long hospital stays. They can cause disability and even death."

"Taking antibiotics unnecessarily, not taking the entire prescription, saving old drugs for later use—it all contributes to creating superbugs," Kohn said. It's a real concern that most Oregonians are not informed about health issues related to taking antibiotics.

Among the survey findings:

  • Only 24 percent of survey respondents were able to name "emerging drug resistance" as a problem related to taking antibiotics. In 2002, nearly one in five of Streptococcus pneumoniae in the Portland metro area were resistant to penicillin.

  • A significant number of those surveyed appeared to be confused about when antibiotics should be used. Twenty-nine percent believed they would be sick for a longer time if they didnt take antibiotics for cough, cold or flu symptoms, and 39 percent said they usually expect an antibiotic by the time they are sick enough to see the doctor for a cold.
"It's clear that most people don't understand that antibiotics are not an across-the-board treatment," Kohn said. "Most upper respiratory illnesses are caused by viruses, which are not treatable by antibiotics—they only work against bacterial infections."

Kohn said its critical to get the problem under control because as drug-resistant bacteria are created, they spread from one individual to others in the community. "This is the why it's a growing public health threat," he said.

"It's going to take a coordinated approach to solve this problem," Kohn said. "An important component is education." He advises consumers:

  • Don't pressure your health care provider to prescribe antibiotics for viral infections such as colds or flu. Antibiotics have no power against viruses and can cause serious side effects.

  • If antibiotics are prescribed, take every dose, even if your symptoms improve. Not finishing the treatment contributes to the development of superbugs.

  • Never share antibiotics, use leftover antibiotics to treat an illness, or take a prescription that isn't yours.
Awareness efforts

Last year DHS launched the Oregon Alliance Working for Antibiotic Resistance Education (AWARE) coalition to educate health care providers and patients about the problem.

  • Oregon AWARE and antibiotic resistance
In the Portland metropolitan area, AWARE is teaming with Rite-Aid pharmacies to pilot an antibiotics round-up project to encourage people to clean out their medicine cabinets and get rid of leftover and expired antibiotics. From now until the end of February, consumers are invited to drop leftover antibiotics at one of 30 locations, receive a small incentive and be entered into a drawing for one of twenty $50 gift cards.

  • "Antibiotics Round-up" store locations
DHS has also produced a million bilingual antibiotic awareness informational flyers that pharmacists across the state will include as "bag stuffers" with every prescription they dispense. Grant funds from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paid for the printing costs.

Kohn said Oregon AWARE educational efforts are ongoing, and DHS will be able to measure the success of this work. "This survey has provided baseline data showing overall knowledge of the issue. It also gives demographic information so future information can be targeted where it is needed," he said. Review the complete survey responses on the Web.