As runny noses, coughs and colds begin to appear, the request for an antibiotic to knock out the illness may become a common wish for patients, but the head of infection prevention at Tomah Health cautions that antibiotics are not always the answer.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions written are unnecessary, especially those for colds and upper respiratory infections,” said Tomah Health infection preventionist and registered nurse Jan Path, R.N. “Colds and influenza are caused by viruses, and antibiotics only work on bacteria. An antibiotic has absolutely no effect on a virus, most of the time, it’s simply an illness that you have to allow to run its course,” said Path.
While December is a prime time for the public service announcement, Path said Tomah Health is enforcing the message in response to a growing resistance to antibiotics and the rise of germs dubbed super bugs. “As we overuse antibiotics and cause the bacteria to become resistant to the antibiotics we have, there are less treatment options. Unfortunately, there are not too many new drugs looming on the horizon that can save us,” said Path. “If the bugs get more resistant to the drugs that we have, there may come a time when antibiotics no longer work.”
Path insists there is no need for panic, but contends that the public needs to take an active role when treating illnesses. “We don’t want to scare anybody into not taking an antibiotic when it’s truly necessary; they are life-saving drugs and have saved millions of people’s lives. But we want to preserve them for those infections where they truly are needed and not be overused when they are not needed.”
Path said it’s important for patients to listen to their provider and be vigilant when treating viral illnesses. She said treatments can include using a cool mist vaporizer, sucking on throat lozenges, drinking plenty of fluids and getting lots of sleep. “There are a lot of things you can do to help manage those symptoms so that you don’t feel as poorly.”
She also recommended getting a flu shot. “The flu season really has not started around here yet and there is plenty of time to get vaccinated.”
Path explained that when patients see a provider they are worried there is something more serious and often times just that reassurance from the provider that they have a viral infection often makes the patient feel better. “The bottom line is that people just want to feel better-something an antibiotic won’t help with if they are ill with a virus,” added Path.
In the meantime, Path said Tomah Health has taken steps in the campaign by forming an antibiotic stewardship committee that actively monitors antibiotic use and provides education about antibiotic resistance. “It will take everybody working together to cure this problem.”
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