We all know that influenza vaccination helps prevent disease, but a new
study from Canada suggests it may also prevent another public health
problem: inappropriate antibiotic use. The findings come from a new
study in the September 1, 2009 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, which is now available online.
Starting in 2000, the Canadian province of Ontario introduced a
universal immunization program offering free influenza vaccines to
anyone 6 months of age or older. Other provinces continued to target
only high-risk groups and their contacts for vaccination. The authors
compared prescription rates for influenza-associated respiratory
antibiotics before and after the Ontario program began, and compared the
Ontario prescription rates with those of other provinces.
The broader immunization effort in Ontario was associated with a 64
percent decline in these antibiotic prescriptions compared with the
other provinces that maintained targeted vaccination programs.
Additionally, influenza-associated mortality fell 39 percent.
Flu-related hospitalizations, emergency department use, and doctors’
office visits also fell an average of 52 percent.
Influenza and upper respiratory conditions account for a substantial
number of antibiotic prescriptions, even though antibiotics don’t work
against viruses such as the flu. The overuse of antibiotics and the
development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria continue to be serious
public health problems. According to study author Fawziah Marra, PharmD,
of the University of British Columbia, the study’s findings suggest
that “jurisdictions wishing to decrease antibiotic use might consider
programs to increase influenza vaccination.”
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