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DHS news release

Dec. 21, 2005


Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (971) 673-1282
Technical contact: Ann Thomas, M.D. (971) 673-1111


Public awareness messages promote safe use of antibiotics



"Antibiotics don't work for colds and flu" signs will begin showing up on more than 100 public transit buses in Portland, Salem and Eugene starting this week.


The English- and Spanish-language signs will appear both inside and on the outside backs of buses through March. They are sponsored by the Oregon Alliance Working for Antibiotic Resistance Education (AWARE) and funded with federal dollars.


"We want to make the public aware that antibiotic resistance is an emerging public health threat, and lack of awareness only adds to the problem," said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS).


Kohn said a recent DHS survey showed that 74 percent of Oregonians don't know about the problem of antibiotic resistance.


Misuse of antibiotics can add up to more expensive problems down the road, says Robert Dannenhoffer, M.D., a Roseburg pediatrician and Oregon Medical Association president.


"Taking antibiotics unnecessarily, not taking the entire prescription when prescribed, or saving old drugs for later use--these practices all contribute to creating resistant bacteria," said Dannenhoffer. "Such bacteria cause illnesses that are hard to treat and require expensive, inconvenient, and potentially dangerous medications. Some of the newer antibiotics such as Linezolid cost as much as $75 per pill."


The bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus, is a particular concern because of its growing resistance to penicillin. Pneumococcus is the leading cause of pneumonia and meningitis in the U.S., Kohn said.


A decade ago, antibiotic resistance was rare. But in 2004, 22 percent of serious pneumococcal infection cases nationally were resistant to penicillin. In the Portland metropolitan area, 17 percent of cases were resistant--the first local increase in resistance in several years, according to Kohn.


Kohn said that getting the problem under control is critical because as drug-resistant bacteria are created they spread from person to person, and especially among young children. Those at highest risk of acquiring drug-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae children under 2 years and children in daycare, he said.


"We're all going to have to work together to solve this problem," Kohn said. "The first step is to raise awareness." He advises:


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


DHS launched Oregon AWARE four years ago to educate patients and healthcare providers about the safe use of antibiotics. The coalition has representation from healthcare providers, health plans, community organizations, industry and academic institutions.


Oregon AWARE is one of 28 state and local programs coordinated through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work" campaign. More information about the safe use of antibiotics and Oregon AWARE is on the Oregon AWARE Web site.