Several supermarket pharmacies that began offering free antibiotics this winter received letters from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging them to promote responsible use of antibiotics.
Some of the pharmacies are linking the promotion to cold and flu season. Antibiotics, however, do not work against these viral illnesses. Additionally, 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).
In letters to Wegmans Food Markets, ShopRite, Giant Food Stores, and Stop & Shop, the groups asked them to join the “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work,” a campaign from the CDC to educate individuals about the importance of using antibiotics properly.
“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.”
Giant Food Stores and Wegmans Food Markets are taking action, according to a March 5, 2009, New York Times article. Giant Food Stores spokeswoman said the company had dropped the reference to cold and flu from its marketing campaign and was reviewing the concerns. In February, Wegmans Food Markets published information on its Web site, in advertising circulars, and e-mail messages about responsible antibiotic use and appropriate cough and cold treatments, said a company spokeswoman. The company was planning to distribute the CDC’s educational materials in its pharmacies.
“Supermarkets have the power to protect their customers’ health,” said Lauri Hicks, DO, medical director of the 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.”
IDSA is encouraging supermarkets to offer free flu shots rather than free antibiotics as a cost-saving measure for individuals while protecting their health. “We applaud supermarkets’ desire to look out for their customers in these difficult economic times,” said Dr. Gershon. “As flu season heats up, free influenza vaccinations would be a proven-effective way to keep customers healthy.”
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