Health experts urge supermarket pharmacies to 'get smart' about free antibiotics

February 25, 2009

As influenza season shifts into high gear, with 24 states now reporting widespread activity, the nation's infectious diseases experts are urging supermarket pharmacies with free-antibiotics promotions to educate their customers on when antibiotics are the right prescription—and when they can do more harm than good.

Several grocery store chains nationwide began offering free antibiotics this winter. Some are linking the promotion to cold and flu season, despite the fact that antibiotics do not work against these viral illnesses. Furthermore, antibiotics can have serious side effects, and their misuse is contributing to the increase in antibiotic-resistant infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Therefore, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have written to supermarkets with free-antibiotics promotions asking them to join "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work," a campaign from CDC to educate consumers about the importance of using antibiotics appropriately.

"Taking an antibiotic when you don't need it won't help you, and may in fact do more harm than good," said IDSA President Anne Gershon, MD. "At a time when antibiotic overuse is helping to create drug-resistant superbugs such as MRSA and few new antibiotics are being developed, supermarkets need to be responsible in how they promote antibiotics."

Studies show many people believe that antibiotics can cure a cold or the flu, and tend to ask or pressure their clinicians to provide them. Every year, tens of thousands of people are prescribed antibiotics for these conditions, even though they will do no good and can be harmful. A recent study in Clinical Infectious Diseases estimates that antibiotics are responsible for 142,000 emergency department visits each year, mostly because of allergic reactions.

"Supermarkets have the power to protect their customers' health," said Lauri Hicks, DO, medical director of CDC's "Get Smart" program. "If they sought to educate people about when antibiotics work and when they don't, they would be doing a great public service."

In letters to Wegmans, ShopRite, Stop and Shop, and Giant, IDSA and CDC suggest that supermarkets could begin with CDC's easy-to-understand posters, brochures, and other educational materials.

IDSA suggests supermarkets offer free flu shots rather than free antibiotics as a way to save customers money while protecting their health. "We applaud supermarkets' desire to look out for their customers in these difficult economic times," Dr. Gershon said. "As flu season heats up, free influenza vaccinations would be a proven-effective way to keep customers healthy."

Source: Infectious Diseases Society of America

Explore further: Nanoparticle delivery maximizes drug defense against bioterrorism agent

Related Stories

Antibiotics for the prevention of malaria

July 20, 2010

If mice are administered an antibiotic for three days and are simultaneously infected with malaria, no parasites appear in the blood and life-threatening disease is averted. In addition, the animals treated in this manner ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Feb 25, 2009
If I were a customer of Wegmans, ShopRite, Stop and Shop, Giant, IDSA or CDC I would think twice about it. Why go to a store where there's an elevated risk of running into an individual carrying some sort of antibiotic-resistant bug? I'm not calling for a boycott, mind you, just suggesting the practice of safe shopping.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.