PORTLAND – It was a nippy November day in Pioneer Courthouse Square. The city’s annual Christmas tree was going up — a giant evergreen to mark the holiday season. But that wasn’t the only super-sized object with a seasonal message. A couple of strides from the mega-tree stood a monstrous nose, a reminder that the season of good cheer is also the season of colds and flu.
People walking by stopped and stared. The daring and the curious pushed the red button next to the nose, triggering a loud “Ah-choo!” followed by a spray of water from the mega-nostrils and a disembodied voice giving health-care tips.
“Gross!” one woman proclaimed as she wandered by wearing a blue stocking cap and carrying a Dallas Cowboys lunchbox. “That’s disgusting!”
Another passerby, a teacher with the Portland School District, declared, “The nose is awesome!” She promptly buttonholed one of the organizers to ask if the nose would be available for her school’s health fair in the spring. “This would be really, really cool.”
Whether you think it’s disgusting, awesome or just funny, it did capture the attention of local media. Morning and evening news teams from KGW covered the event, as did OPB radio. After all, the nose’s message is a serious one: you can help prevent illness by washing your hands, covering your mouth when you sneeze and getting a flu shot — but if you do catch a virus such as the flu, pneumonia or a sinus infection, don’t take antibiotics. That’s because the drugs are designed to work only on bacterial infections. Taking them unnecessarily means they won’t work as well when you really need them.
“Antibiotics can be important, sometimes lifesaving, medications when we really need them,” explained Jessina McGregor, assistant professor in Oregon State University’s College of Pharmacy. “But all too often, they’re taken unnecessarily or improperly.”
The outreach event was part of national Get Smart About Antibiotics week. In partnership with the Oregon Adult Immunization Coalition, third- and fourth-year OSU pharmacy students vaccinated 70 people who are uninsured or have barriers to accessing vaccines. Students were looking up patients’ health records on a laptop via the Oregon Alert System, a statewide immunization registry maintained by the Oregon Health Authority.
And they talked to people — lots of them — about proper antibiotic use.
“Our students provided education about proper antibiotic use to nearly 1,000 people,” said McGregor, who partners with Oregon AWARE (Oregon Alliance Working for Antibiotic Resistance Education), which is based at the Health Authority and funded by the Centers for Disease Control. “They also surveyed more than 360 individuals to assess general knowledge about antibiotic use.”