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DHS news release

Nov. 8, 2006

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

Antibiotic awareness: coming soon to a theater near you

An animated new health ad hits the screens of 23 Portland metro Regal Cinema movies theaters this Friday, just in time for colds and flu season.

The message is simple and direct: "Warning! Antibiotics don't work for viruses like colds and the flu. Use antibiotics wisely."

The ad, sponsored by the Oregon Alliance Working for Antibiotic Resistance Education, is funded by federal dollars and will run Nov. 10 through Jan. 4.

"Using antibiotics when you don't need them promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria," said Art Jaffe, M.D., head of the Division of General Pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University. "These bacteria cause illnesses that are difficult to treat and often require expensive, inconvenient and potentially dangerous medications."

A growing public health concern is the increasing prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria, according to Ann Thomas, M.D., public health physician in the Oregon Department of Human Services.


Thomas said that Staphylococcal aureus is the most common cause of bloodstream infections. Nationally, more than half of S. aureus cases are resistant to antibiotics, and more than 300 patients were hospitalized with drug-resistant S. aureus in the Portland area in 2005. Another infection, Streptococcus pneumoniae, is the leading cause of meningitis and bacterial pneumonia in the United States. In 2005, 17 percent of S. pneumoniae cases occurring in the Portland area were resistant to antibiotics.

A 2001-2003 DHS study examined antibiotic use among Oregon's Medicaid patients. It found that more than 100,000 people were diagnosed with upper respiratory tract infections and nearly half received antibiotics. "We estimate that 30,000 of these antibiotic prescriptions were unnecessary," Thomas said.

Oregon AWARE was established by DHS in 2001 to reduce inappropriate use of antibiotics, particularly for viral respiratory infections. More than 40 public and private partners have joined the alliance.

DHS started tracking Oregonians' knowledge of the dangers of antibiotic resistance in 2002. Thomas said the percentage of people who were unaware of the problem was at 76 percent. But in 2005, awareness of the issue rose by 7 percentage points.

Thomas attributes part of the increased knowledge to Oregon AWARE educational campaigns on Portland MAX light rail cars and public transit buses during the past two winters. The 2006 public transit bus campaign was seen by an estimated 138,000 Oregonians in Portland, Eugene and Salem.

"Our hope is that the cinema ad, which plays to a captive audience, will increase knowledge beyond the mass transit campaign, which may have left only a fleeting impression," Thomas said.

"Smart use of antibiotics is the key to controlling the spread of resistance," Thomas said. She recommends three steps people can take to help in the effort:

  • 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.

As with other public health programs, Oregon AWARE is focused on prevention, so that avoidable illness and injury do not occur. It is one of 34 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 DHS Antibiotic Resistance Education Web site.