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Published on December 18, 2017

Cold and flu season highlights misuse of antibiotics

robotic prescription dispensing system

Antibiotics can be administered orally or intravenously. This photograph was taken inside Nash UNC Hospital's robotic prescription dispensing system.

Many people believe that antibiotics are essential for fighting colds, flu, and other illnesses.

While it’s true that antibiotics are powerful medicines used for treating a number of common bacterial infections such as pneumonia and for life-threatening conditions including sepsis, they do not fight infections caused by viruses, like flu and colds.

Antibiotics don’t help with some common bacterial infections, either, including most cases of bronchitis, many sinus infections, some ear infections, and runny noses – the problems cold weather usually brings.

Neither plant nor animal, bacteria are living microorganisms capable of change. Without a full awareness of bacteria’s potential for adaptation, the worldwide medical community began overprescribing antibiotics and this practice continued for years. Bacteria soon began developing resistance to the benefits of antibiotics, known simply as “antibiotics resistance.” To continue this practice would be to risk the future use of these incredible drugs where they are most needed.

Nash UNC Health Care joins the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in encouraging patients, families and all healthcare professionals to learn about the safe use of antibiotics. In an effort to provide education and leadership for hospital staff and patients about antibiotics, the antimicrobial stewardship team at Nash UNC Health Care has partnered with the Duke Antimicrobial Stewardship Outreach Network (DASON).

In addition, Nash Infection Prevention Nurses, the Microbiology Lab, Quality & Patient Safety personnel, all Nash UNC Employee Health providers, and physicians are working to optimize how antibiotics are used within our hospital and community.

Nationwide, at least two million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year and 23,000 of them will die because bacteria will not respond to the antibiotics. In fact, antibiotic resistance is now one of the most urgent threats to public health.

“To further complicate matters, if antibiotics are used when not needed, they won’t help, and the side effects can still be harmful. Common side effects range from rashes and yeast infections to severe health problems like Clostridium difficile infection (also called C. difficile or C. diff), which causes diarrhea that can lead to severe colon damage and even death,” said Luke Heuts, PharmD, BCPS, Clinical Coordinator, Pharmacy Services at Nash UNC Health Care and co-chair of the antimicrobial stewardship team with Dr. Emma Castillo.

As a patient, if you need antibiotics, it is important that you take them exactly as prescribed. Patients and families can talk to their healthcare professional if they have any questions about their antibiotics, or if they develop side effects, especially diarrhea, since that could be C. difficile, which needs to be treated.

Improving the way antibiotics are used helps keep us healthy now, helps fight antibiotic resistance, and ensures that life-saving antibiotics will be available for future use. We can all stay healthy and keep others healthy by cleaning our hands, covering our coughs, staying home when sick, and getting recommended vaccines.

News Media Contact

Dorsey Tobias, director of Marketing & Communications, at 252-962-8900 or by email.

If calling after hours, please dial the main hospital line at 252-962-8000 and ask to speak with the nursing supervisor on duty and identify yourself as a member of the news media. He or she will be able to assist you.

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