CHICAGO — The government has a new strategy for reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics: Persuade parents to stop pestering pediatricians to write prescriptions for runny noses.
Health officials have already hammered on doctors to quit dispensing antibiotics in situations where they are practically guaranteed not to work, such as common colds. A straight-to-Mom-and-Dad campaign is next.
The effort, announced Wednesday, is built around public service ads featuring pictures of cranky-looking kids and the headline: "Snort. Sniffle. Sneeze. No antibiotics please."
"Doctors, like everybody else, like to please their patients," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "If a patient comes in with strong expectations, it is tempting — and takes less time — to write the prescription for antibiotics."
And that, virtually everyone agrees, is not a good thing. Overuse of antibiotics has led to the evolution of germs that are resistant to standard medicines, such as penicillin. Anyone who has recently taken antibiotics has an increased risk of coming down with a resistant infection.
Earlier campaigns, aimed at health professionals, already seem to have paid off. Various studies suggest that use of antibiotic pills has fallen about 25 percent in the past decade, and the decline has been even greater in pediatric medicine.
Still, officials say, there is much room for improvement. The CDC's Dr. Richard Besser said a study in 1995 found that over 40 percent of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions were for viral infections.
That violates a basic rule of medicine: Antibiotics kill bacteria. They are powerless against viruses, which cause the common cold, among other things. Nevertheless, many people expect, or demand, an antibiotic if they feel under the weather, even if their illness is clearly viral. Doctors often oblige, because it is easier than arguing.
A recent CDC survey found that half of adults believe that if they are sick enough to see the doctor for a cold, they deserve an antibiotic. Even more are unaware there is any risk to taking antibiotics.
The new campaign will involve print, TV and radio ads and cost $1.6 million.