GLEN ALLEN, Va. (WRIC) — The earliest days of the cold and flu season are underway, and now Virginia health officials are passing along an important message to doctors and patients: Antibiotics are not always the right treatment, and using them in the wrong instances could contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“This is an issue that is ongoing and impacting everyone every day,” says Dr. Sam Bartle with Children’s Hospital of Richmond.
Bartle took part in an antibiotic stewardship effort Monday, held jointly by the Virginia Department of Health, Medical Society of Virginia, Health Quality Innovators and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.
Together, the groups aim to promote the best antibiotic practices in support of public health and well-being. Research finds the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a direct result of overuse and misuse. When antibiotics lose effectiveness in treating infections, the public faces a risk of having fewer treatment options for serious illnesses.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates two million Americans get an antibiotic-resistant infection every year, and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of them. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.
“We need to work at the individual prescribing level, we need to work with hospitals, we need to work with nursing homes and we need some education for consumers,” says Dr. Diane Woolard with the Virginia Department of Health.
Adds Sheila McLean with Health Quality Innovators, “So often the public doesn’t really understand the use of antibiotics, and we’ve often heard antibiotics is a good thing. And it is when appropriately used, but often times they have been overused.”
The CDC estimates 30 percent of all antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary. Taking them for viral infections like the flu, a cold or bronchitis will not help patients feel better or keep others from getting sick.
“We need to get this right,” explains Dr. J. Thomas Ryan with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. “If we do not get this right, antibiotics will no longer kill the bacteria we’ve been using now since the middle of the 20th century.”
Doctor Ryan credits penicillin, which was first widely produced in the 1940’s, with saving lives.
“Before that, infections were the number one cause of death,” illustrates Dr. Bartle. “You could get a cut. If it became infected very easily, you could have lost a limb or lost a life.”
Unless everyone takes the right drug in the right dosage for the entire duration, the groups involved in the antibiotic stewardship effort see a bleak future.
“If we keep going the way we’re going now, antibiotics might not work anymore,” says Dr. Woolard.