Wash your hands and finish your prescriptions, health 'officials; say
'Not all bugs need drugs,' Vinnie the Virus says
Public health officials in Nunavut are trying to clear something up: just because you're sick, it doesn't mean you need to take antibiotic drugs.
Nunavut's Department of Health and Social Services launched the "Not all bugs need drugs" campaign earlier this month.
The rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases has become a major public health problem around the world and one that's begun to appear in Nunavut, said Brook Fulmer, the territory's director of pharmacy.
The notion that a pill, or a prescription of antibiotics can cure whatever ails you, sends people to the doctor complaining of colds when what they need is bed rest, fluids and Tylenol.
"People have come to expect a magic bullet," Fulmer said. "When drugs are not given it is often the best treatment."
That leads to people taking antibiotics to treat colds, flu and bronchitis, even though these are viral, not bacterial infections.
Leona Aglukkaq, the health and social services minister, announced the campaign in the Legislative Assembly earlier this month. Department officials will circulate brochures, posters and t-shirts bearing the likeness of a cartoon character called "Vinnie The Virus," who resembles a diseased tennis ball wearing aviator goggles.
"It is important for Nunavummiut to know if they are not receiving a prescription for antibiotics, there is a valid reason," Aglukkaq told the assembly.
Bacterial infections also build resistance to antibiotics when people stop taking their prescriptions too early, before they finish taking all of their pills.
The campaign is Nunavut's contribution to national and worldwide movements by health officials to cut down on unnecessary prescriptions of antibiotics. Drug-resistant "superbugs," alongside the spectre of pandemic influenza, have arisen as major public health bogeymen in recent years.
Fulmer couldn't say how much antibiotic resistant infections cost Nunavut's health system annually, but said it's significant.
But "it's insignificant compared to the risk it's creating. The risk to the health care system is huge," Fulmer said.
In fact, MRSA, a type of staph infection that's resistant to the antibiotic methicillin has already surfaced in the Kivalliq region, Fulmer said. Symptoms include pimples or boils on the skin, and it can even affect the lungs, bloodstream or large areas of skin.
Doctors and nurses will still prescribe antibiotics, Fulmer stressed, but only if they're needed.
In the meantime, the best way to prevent infections of all types, he said, is an old stand-by.
Wash your hands. A lot.