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NewspaperCanada Leading the Way In Cutting Antibiotic Resistance: Doctors And Public Have Taken Action, Surveys Show

National coalition of health organizations establishes Antibiotic Awareness Week to raise profile of serious public health issue

TORONTO, Ontario - February 21, 2000 - Canadians have taken action in managing Canada's antibiotic resistant bacteria problem by improving their use of antibiotics. The results of two new surveys from Angus Reid, released today during Canada's first Antibiotic Awareness Week, suggest that the majority of physicians and patients have adjusted their habits with regard to prescribing or using antibiotics during the past three years. Researchers tracking isolates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria have recognized a corresponding decrease in certain "antibiotic" resistance rates in Canada during that same time period.

The National Information Program on Antibiotics (NIPA), a coalition of eight health organizations concerned with the issue of appropriate use of antibiotics in Canada, attributes much of this success to improved physician and pharmacist communication with patients, and increased patient understanding of the issue.

"Canada is now a world leader in efforts to reduce the public health burden of antibiotic resistance, but we still have a long way to go," said Dr. Ronald Grossman, chair of NIPA, professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, and head of the Division of Respiratory Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. "Since the introduction of several patient, pharmacist and physician education initiatives in 1996, prescriptions for penicillin and other oral antibiotics have decreased by four per cent. More importantly, antibiotic resistance rates of Streptococcus pneumoniae, the most common bacterial cause of serious infections like community-acquired pneumonia, ear infections, sinusitis and bronchitis, have stabilized or decreased. This is particularly impressive because we know from other countries' experience that, without intervention, resistance rates would have been expected to double in the last three years."

A national poll of physicians revealed that 79 per cent of physicians have changed their prescribing practices to treat respiratory symptoms during the past three years. Of those physicians, 18 per cent say their patients have requested antibiotics to treat respiratory symptoms less frequently.

In a similar survey conducted with Canadian consumers who were prescribed an antibiotic during the past three years, 55 per cent of consumers said they would be less likely to ask for a prescription for antibiotics when they have a cold or flu compared to three years ago. This is positive news, as most colds and flu are the result of viral infections that can not be treated with antibiotics.

The results of the surveys have been released to the public on the heels of several other new NIPA initiatives, including the introduction of the coalition's website [] scheduled to be launched in the following weeks, the unveiling of NIPA's 2000 poster campaign, and the official designation of an Antibiotic Awareness Week in provinces across Canada.

The NIPA Antibiotic Awareness Week is an opportunity for consumers to speak to their healthcare professional about antibiotic resistance and its prevalence in their community, or to discuss common cold and flu symptoms that most likely will not require antibiotic treatment.

"Inappropriate use of antibiotics not only contributes to the growing financial burden on our healthcare system, but it also creates a hazard for all Canadians who could be affected by the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria," said Dr. Paul Hasselback of the Canadian Public Health Association and medical officer of health for the Chinook Health Region in Alberta. "Interventions like NIPA's Antibiotic Awareness Week are a much needed step in the right direction."

The growth in antibiotic resistance rates has become a major concern to healthcare professionals during the past two decades. Infectious disease specialists use the antibiotic penicillin as a general marker to track antibiotic resistance. Before the late 1980s, all pneumonia-causing bacteria responded to penicillin treatment. By about 1990, specialists began finding resistant strains of bacteria that would not respond to penicillin. Since then, resistance to penicillin and other antibiotics has increased dramatically.

Currently, Canadians have access to extremely effective antibiotics, but unless they are used wisely, society could be at a loss for effective medications to fight deadly diseases such as meningitis, tuberculosis and pneumonia. Through appropriate use of and respect for antibiotics, Canadians can play a vital role in making sure that these medications continue to be effective.

To ensure that antibiotic resistance does not become an even bigger public health concern, NIPA is dedicated to helping educate healthcare professionals and consumers so that antibiotics are used appropriately.

Since its inception in 1996 at the initiative of a number of health organizations and Pfizer Canada Inc., the coalition has grown to include eight leading health, medical, patient and pharmacy organizations. NIPA partners include: The Canadian Infectious Disease Society; The Canadian Medical Association; 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 Lung Association. NIPA's costs are underwritten by an educational grant from Pfizer Canada. Rogers Media also supports the initiative by helping to deliver NIPA's messages to healthcare professionals through its healthcare publications.

After focusing its efforts on healthcare professionals during the past three years, working with physicians to develop tools and encourage dialogue between health professionals and patients, NIPA is focusing its new efforts on the public to promote compliance and awareness.


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