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Antibiotic Awareness Week Marks 75th Anniversary of the Discovery of Penicillin with Favourable National Report Card on Antibiotic Resistance

"Now, our biggest threat is complacency," warn infectious disease specialists

TORONTO - February 25, 2003 - As the world celebrates the 75th anniversary of the discovery of penicillin, Canada is holding its own with respect to some rates of antibiotic resistance, according to the National Information Program on Antibiotics (NIPA), and remains a world leader in the fight against this serious public health threat.

Data compiled by the Canadian Bacterial Surveillance Network (CBSN) showed that, in 2002, the rate of penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae was only slightly up from 2001 (15.5 per cent vs. 14.4 per cent). And rates of high-level resistance remain essentially unchanged.

S. pneumoniae is the leading infectious cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide and is the most common bacterial cause of community-acquired infections such as bronchitis, sinusitis, middle ear infections and pneumonia.

"On a national level, we have made a lot of progress," says Dr. Allison McGeer, Director of Infection Control at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and co-investigator, CBSN. "Although the news is good, our biggest threat right now is complacency. Antibiotic resistance is a problem that will always be with us. If we don't maintain our vigilance, it will come back and bite us."

Rates of penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae are significantly lower in Canada than in many other parts of the world, where they range from more than 30 per cent in parts of South America to as high as 80 per cent in Hong Kong and South Africa. In the United States, the latest figures show resistance at 41 per cent, more than triple that of Canada.

The national report card on antibiotic resistance was released today as part of NIPA's fourth annual Antibiotic Awareness Week (February 24 to 28). The coalition of medical, pharmacist and patient groups has been working since 1996 to raise awareness of the threat of antibiotic resistance and the importance of using antibiotics wisely, including appropriate prescribing by physicians, clear guidance from pharmacists, and patient compliance.

"While Canada is doing well in keeping antibiotic resistance rates stable, we have to remember that after Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, he also warned the scientific community of the Achilles' heel of his great discovery - that antibiotic resistance could pose a serious threat," says Dr. Ronald Grossman, Chief of Medicine at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ontario, and Chairman of the National Information Program on Antibiotics. "NIPA is committed to making sure that antibiotics are used appropriately, and that the arsenal of antibiotics available to us, like penicillin, will continue to help patients and save lives for many years to come."

NIPA's operating costs are underwritten by an educational grant from Pfizer Canada, which brought together the coalition seven years ago. Though penicillin was discovered in 1928, it was some 15 years before Pfizer, during the Second World War, used its expertise in fermentation technology to become the first company to mass-produce the "wonder drug".

NIPA is also a member of the Canadian Committee on Antibiotic Resistance (CCAR), an umbrella committee, funded by Health Canada, to coordinate the efforts of Canadian medical, public health and veterinary groups working to overcome the problem of antibiotic resistance.

This year, NIPA is continuing its consumer and professional advertising campaign, in collaboration with Rogers Media, which donates advertising space in its professional publications. NIPA will also be updating the coalition's website [] with new material. NIPA's Antibiotic Information Kit continues to be made available to physicians and pharmacists.

The partners in NIPA are the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Infectious Disease Society, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the Canadian Pharmacists Association, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Thoracic Society, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and the Canadian Lung Association.


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