Supermarkets Should 'Get Smart'

Several grocery store chains in the U.S. began offering free antibiotics this winter. Some are linking the promotion to cold and flu season, despite the fact that antibiotics do not work against these viral illnesses. Furthermore, 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).

Therefore, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have written to supermarkets with free-antibiotics promotions asking them to join "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work," a campaign from CDC to educate consumers about the importance of using antibiotics appropriately.

"Taking an antibiotic when you do not need it will not help you, and may in fact do more harm than good," said IDSA President Anne Gershon. "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."

Studies show many people believe that antibiotics can cure a cold or the flu, and tend to ask or pressure their clinicians to provide them. Every year, tens of thousands of people are prescribed antibiotics for these conditions, even though they will do no good and can be harmful. A recent study in Clinical Infectious Diseases estimates that antibiotics are responsible for 142,000 emergency department visits each year, mostly because of allergic reactions.

"Supermarkets have the power to protect their customers' health," said Lauri Hicks, DO, medical director of CDC's "Get Smart" programme. "If they sought to educate people about when antibiotics work and when they do not, they would be doing a great public service."

In letters, IDSA and CDC suggest that supermarkets could begin with CDC's easy-to-understand posters, brochures, and other educational materials. Another suggestion is that supermarkets should offer free flu shots rather than free antibiotics as a way to save customers money while protecting their health.; Source: Infectious Diseases Society of America