Communications: Patient Education

Patient Education: MN Family Physicians Work to Keep Antibiotics Effective

Tuesday, January 21, 2003  
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As we struggle through the cold and flu season, family physicians across the state will see an influx of patients seeking treatment. The problem is many visitors to the doctor’s office expect to leave with a prescription for antibiotics, despite the fact they don’t need them.

"Antibiotics won’t work on many common illnesses,” said Amy Bonifas, a Brooklyn Center family physician and member of the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians. "Colds, coughs and most sore throats stem from viral infections. Antibiotics kill bacterial infections.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 40% of antibiotics prescribed nationwide are unnecessary. Often, patients come in demanding antibiotics for cold or flu symptoms thinking the medication will clear the way for them to get back to work, or allow their child to get back to daycare or school. The CDC says using antibiotics for the wrong reasons only helps create resistant strains of bacteria that don’t respond to treatment. This occurs when bacteria change in some way. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm.

"This could mean illnesses caused by bacteria, such as strep throat, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and meningitis, could someday be untreatable with antibiotics,” Dr. Bonifas said. "This should be a huge concern to everyone.”

As a patient, there are ways you can help prevent antibiotic-resistant infections. First, talk with your family doctor about whether your illness is caused by bacteria or a virus and do not request an antibiotic for viral infections such as the common cold. Ask your doctor what you can do to treat the symptoms that are making you or your child uncomfortable – knowing that a virus must run its course. Your doctor will probably suggest things like getting plenty of rest and taking non-aspirin pain relievers or decongestants. Second, take your antibiotic exactly as prescribed and don’t save any for the next time you get sick. Third, don’t take an antibiotic that is prescribed for someone else.

"We can’t expect antibiotics to cure every illness,” Dr. Bonifas said. "If patients and physicians work together we can ensure these medications will be effective for years to come.”

The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians is a professional association of approximately 3,000 family physicians, family medicine residents and medical students organized to assist family physicians in providing quality medical care in Minnesota. The MAFP is the largest medical specialty organization in Minnesota and is a state chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians, one of the largest national medical organizations in the United States with more than 103,000 members.

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