A campaign to educate the public not to expect health professionals to prescribe antibiotics for their cold and flu symptoms this winter has been launched by Pharmac.

The ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign is aiming to help more people understand that antibiotics are to treat bacterial infections and aren’t effective against viral illnesses like colds and flu. District Health Boards are also encouraging people to understand the difference between a cold and the flu.

“If you do take an antibiotic for a cold or flu, not only will it fail to treat the cold or flu, but it could also contribute to the growing global health threat of antibiotic resistance,” says Pharmac Deputy Medical Director Bryan Betty.

He said antibiotic resistance puts lives at risk and, while New Zealand doesn’t currently have the same level of drug-resistant bacteria as some overseas countries, the number of resistant strains are increasing here.

The campaign, spearheaded by social media posts and supported by resources for frontline health professionals, highlights five simple things that will help treat  cold or flu symptoms:

  • Rest.
  • Fluids.
  • Pain relief.
  • Decongestants.
  • Lozenges and gargles.

Dr Betty said the campaign was not discouraging people from visiting their doctor, nurse or pharmacist. “Just be aware that if you’re diagnosed with a cold or flu, and there’s no sign of a serious infection, you’re unlikely to be prescribed antibiotics.”

Difference between a cold and the flu

Meanwhile  Whanganui District Health Board health promotion officer Chester Penaflor is also encouraging people to be aware of the differences between a cold and flu this winter.

“While a cold might take a day to develop, influenza can do so within a few hours and with an accompanying fever (more than 38.6 degrees Celsius) and muscle aches.”

“Most colds last a week or two at the most, and in general, you probably won’t need to see a doctor. Self-care such as getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids and avoiding exposure to smoke is what you need to do. Taking Panadol for your fever, aches and pains can also help.”

“Don’t be alarmed by coughing. It’s the body’s way of removing mucus from your airway passages, or of reacting to an irritated airway.”

Penaflor says the time people should see their GP is when they have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Skin rash.
  • An earache that gets more painful.
  • A sore throat and/or cough that gets worse or becomes painful.
  • Difficulty with breathing and/or chest pain.
  • High fever lasting for more than two days.
  • Chills and headaches that last several days.

“This is especially important for young children, older adults and people with chronic illnesses who are at higher risk for complications caused by colds.”

The latest ESR flu surveillance data report for the week ending July 9 still shows that the flu season has yet to kick-off, with ‘unseasonably low’ rates of flu and respiratory viruses being detected, but influenza virus circulation was expected to increase in the next few weeks.

The most common virus being detected in the community at present was the rhinovirus (the predominant cause of the common cold) and in hospitals it was adenovirus (can cause cold-like symptoms to bronchitis and pneumonia).

The Pharmac campaign also addresses earaches in young children – the most common reason children get taken to general practices during winter. Although earache can be caused by infection, taking antibiotics usually won’t help children get better any faster; however, it is still suggested that parents take their child to see their GP or nurse to be checked out.

More information at: www.keepantibioticsworking.nz

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