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As the Flu Runs Rampant in New York City Doctors Warn Patients Antibiotics Are Not Always Best

Influenza (Flu) is widespread in New York. In a recent report from the New York State Department of Health, it was found that the number of patients hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza has increased by more than 50% in recent weeks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed in a health advisory that influenza activity has escalated, with H3N2 viruses predominating this flu season. H3N2 has been associated with growing cases of severe illness and hospitalizations.
Heightened flu activity, during the cold and flu season, and the severity of symptoms caused by the virus have caused many patients to go to their physicians seeking antibiotics. "As the cold and flu season approaches its peak, more patients are going to their physicians in hope of receiving antibiotics. Unfortunately, many think that antibiotics are the answer but they are not always the answer." states Dr. Luigi Tullo, Family Medicine Physician at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. "Antibiotics are appropriate for bacterial infections, but not for viruses such as the flu and other upper respiratory tract infections."
Dr. Tullo further explains, "In the past, a culture was created where it was implied that antibiotics could treat almost anything and patients often left their doctor's visit unsatisfied because antibiotics were not prescribed." Dr. Tullo and colleagues with the assistance of the United Hospital Fund developed the Outpatient Antibiotic Stewardship Program at Jamaica Hospital in an effort to change this perception and to educate patients about the proper uses of antibiotics.
The Outpatient Antibiotics Stewardship Program involves Jamaica Hospital working to develop measures to improve how antibiotics are prescribed by doctors and how patients are using them. As part of its efforts, the hospital has implemented tools to assist physicians in their electronic medical records and has used teaching aids from the CDC's "Get Smart" public education campaign, including educational posters on what illnesses are caused by virus vs bacteria, and which need antibiotics. The hospital has begun using Acute Respiratory Illness Prescriptions to give patients information on how to treat these viral illnesses in place of antibiotics.

During visits, emphasis is placed on how well doctors explain symptoms and appropriate treatments to their patients. According to Tullo," If it is properly explained that not needing antibiotics when they have a virus may be a good thing, the message will be better received."
Over-prescribing antibiotics can lead to the drugs becoming less effective when they are really needed. Another cause for concern is the evolution of bacteria. When exposed to the same antibiotic repeatedly, bacteria can become resistant to the very medications that were intended to eradicate them. As a result, many life-threatening super-bugs and illnesses can develop.
Jamaica Hospital continues to strive to do the best for their patients and hopes that through this effort, they can improve the long-term health of the community. Since the implementation of the program, a preliminary review has shown a 32% decline in total antibiotics prescribed and a 39.9% decrease in antibiotics prescribed for Acute Respiratory Illnesses.

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