"We visited 10 different schools in Salt Lake County this season," said Utah AWARE project manager Kim Barrus. "We have plans to branch out to Davis, Utah and other counties next year."
School assemblies were hosted to grades K-3 that taught children about proper hygiene and the things they can do help prevent colds.
For instance, AWARE told children that instead of coughing into their hands where germs can be spread, they should cough into their elbows. Grades 4-6 received instruction about antibiotics and their proper use.
Utah AWARE, which strictly is a volunteer organization supported by the Utah Department of Health, has also helped daycare centers become better informed about health and hygiene and antibiotic use.
Barrus said the main function of AWARE is to bring community awareness about antibiotic resistance, and that daycare and elementary schools will continue to be a focus in the years to come.
"We've set a lofty goal for ourselves," added AWARE chairman Doug Burgoyne, "which is to create a whole new generation that understands antibiotic resistance."
AWARE is most active from August to March, which is the time when viral infections are most common and when antibiotics are frequently prescribed. However, antibiotics do not treat viral infections, such as the common flu and cold strains; they only kill bacterial infections, such as strep throat or pneumonia.
As people misuse antibiotics, their bodies build immunity to the prescriptions meant to kill bacterial infections. Burgoyne said a common antibiotic drug called Zithromax once was 100 percent resistant to bacteria.
Now, however, the drug has a 30 percent resistant rate. He says what has happened is that communities as a whole have taken the antibiotic for viral infections, and that after repeated misuse bacteria has built resistance to the drug.
Antibiotic misuse stem from not taking an entire prescription (often 10 days worth) to sharing a prescription with others, or giving adult medicine to children. Misuse also means taking too many antibiotics within a short period of time, often for different illnesses and often for viral infections.
Misuse can cause a number of "adverse affects," explained Stephen McDonald, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health. The problems stem from the body developing antibiotic resistance to, in some cases, a serious health malady called pseudomembranous colitis, a bleeding colon.
"We're seeing bacteria that is becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics," McDonald continued. "So now we need stronger antibiotics to kill bacterial infections."
McDonald also said that parents who share their prescriptions with children need to understand that that's a big no-no; so is taking only half the prescription and saving the rest for another time when illness strikes again.
"What needs to happen is that old prescriptions must be thrown away," he said.
But there is good news.
According to Barrus, Utah AWARE is making headway. Since the organization's inception three years ago, more and more people are becoming better informed about antibiotics and their proper use.
Much of this awareness is made possible through radio ads and brochures provided by AWARE, and now by visiting Utah schools.
"We'll continue to visit schools next year," Barrus said. "We're not saying people shouldn't take antibiotics, we're just saying don't mistreat them."
For more information visit www.utahaware.com.