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Free Antibiotics: Wrong Prescription For Cold And Flu Season

Posted Jan 19 2009 1:16am

With an epidemic of antibiotic-resistant infections growing, experts are warning grocery-store pharmacies that antibiotics giveaways are an unhealthy promotional gimmick. If grocery stores want to help customers and save them money during cold and flu season, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) says, they should offer free influenza vaccinations instead.

Giant, Stop & Shop, and other grocery stores have recently begun offering free antibiotics at their pharmacies. Most concerning are promotions such as Wegmans’ that link antibiotics to the winter cold-and-flu season—despite the fact that antibiotics will have no effect on these viral illnesses and carry risks of serious side effects.

“While it may make good marketing sense, promoting antibiotics at a time when we are facing a crisis of antibiotic resistance does not make good public health sense,” said IDSA President Anne Gershon, MD. “On the other hand, grocery stores would be doing a tremendous service if they help more people get their flu shots.”

A new study in the February 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases shows that workers age 50-64 who received influenza vaccine lost substantially fewer days of work and worked fewer days while ill. But influenza vaccine is underutilized. Millions of doses were thrown away at the end of the last two flu seasons.

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