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For Immediate Release:
September 25, 2003
For more information contact:
Maria Iacobo
213/240-8144 or 213/990-7107/pager

Antibiotics Misused by Nearly One-Half of Los Angeles County Adults
Powerful medications misused contribute to disease-resistant infections.

LOS ANGELES –Nearly one-half (47%) of Los Angeles County residents report that they do not take antibiotics as prescribed by their physician and less than one-third (28%) of residents understand the types of illnesses for which antibiotics are effective, according to a new survey sponsored by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS). The results provide a rare glimpse into antibiotic use practices and cogently identify the reasons behind the increase in antibiotic resistant diseases experienced nationwide.

“Our study provides valuable evidence about how widespread the misuse of antibiotics really is and that education needs to be comprehensive with physicians and the public,” said Jonathan Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health and County Health Officer.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and are ineffective against viral infections such as a cold or the flu. However, only 32% of adults correctly reported the appropriate use for antibiotics. In addition, 28% reported that they obtain antibiotics from friends and family members; 47% report that they do not take their antibiotics until they are gone, as prescribed by their doctor.

“Even when properly prescribed, misuse of antibiotics promotes drug-resistant bacteria,” said Elizabeth Bancroft,” M.D., S.M.., Head of the Hospital and Blood-Borne Infections Unit in the Acute Communicable Disease Control Program. “In Los Angeles County, for example, the proportion of a common cause of pneumonia (Streptococcus pneumoniae) resistant to penicillin has increased from 19% in 1996 to 24% in 2000.

“Patients with antibiotic resistant infections are likely to experience longer, more costly hospital stays and their treatment requires more powerful antibiotics that may cause more severe side effects.”

Knowledge of correct antibiotic use is higher among those with a college or post-graduate degree (47%) than high school graduates (24%) or those that did not graduate from high school (13%). Adults who correctly reported the use of antibiotics against bacterial infections were more likely to report positive practices such as finishing prescribed antibiotics and less likely to report negative practices such as getting antibiotics from family or friends.

Public education needed “There is a need to educate healthcare providers, their patients and the general public about the dangers of misusing antibiotics,” said Dr. Bancroft. “In addition, the survey results demonstrate a need for culturally and linguistically appropriate education.” DHS’s Acute Communicable Disease Control Program has a public education project underway and collaborates with healthcare providers, schools and other community organizations. For more information on Los Angeles Antibiotic Resistance Education Advocates (LA AREA), visit: lapublichealth.org/acd/antibio.htm.

For a copy of the complete study on antibiotic misuse, visit: lapublichealth.org/ha.

Health survey background: The Los Angeles County Health Survey is a periodic, population-based telephone survey that collects information on socio-demographic characteristics, health status, health behaviors and access to health services among adults and children in Los Angeles County. The 2002- 03 survey collected information on a random sample of more than 8,000 adults and nearly 6,000 children with interviews offered in six languages.

Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control and community and family health and comprises more than 4,000 employees with an annual budget exceeding $600 million.