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Despite Known Risks, Antibiotics Still Widely Prescribed Inappropriately, Two Studies Show

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Although it is widely known that use of antibiotics when not medically necessary can increase the risk of serious antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs”, many doctors continue to prescribe the drugs to patients who do not need them. 

Two recent studies highlight the continuing problems with inappropriate antibiotic prescribing, despite a number of recommendations issued in recent years that are designed to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.

In a study published in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society on January 17, Canadian researchers analyzed data from a survey of U.S. emergency rooms from 2007 to 2015. Among children who were treated in the ER with bronchiolitis, 25% were prescribed antibiotics.

Bronchiolitis is the leading cause of hospitalizations for children in the U.S. during their first year of life, but it is a viral infection that is not effectively treated by antibiotics.

Data from the survey showed 70% of the children treated with antibiotics did not have any type of bacterial infection. A study published last year had similar findings, concluding antibiotic are prescribe more than 50% of the time when there is no bacterial infection present.

The Academy of Pediatrics issued a warning in 2006, which indicated that routine prescribing of antibiotics should not be done, especially for viral infections because it can lead to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which is much harder to treat and can often be deadly.

Despite the recommendations, antibiotic prescribing has not decreased, and oversight efforts have had little impact on prescribing.

Similarly, a study published January 16 in the journal JAMA Dermatology concluded that dermatologists have increased prescribing of antibiotics for dermatological related surgeries by 70% from 2008 to 2016.

The antibiotic prescriptions increased even though the risk of infection after dermatological related surgeries is extremely low, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted. More so, guidelines don’t call for long courses of antibiotics after surgery, yet those continue.

The study showed dermatologists decreased prescribing by 37%, resulting in 500,000 fewer antibiotic prescriptions for problems like acne or rosacea.

Yet overall, dermatologists write more than 7 million prescriptions for conditions like these every year in the U.S.

Researchers warn, the increase in unnecessary antibiotic prescribing leads to so called super bugs, which can spread rapidly and are extremely difficult to treat. It can increase infection risks and raise medical costs for patients.

Developing alternatives to antibiotics for noninfectious conditions like acne, can help reduce antibiotic use. Similarly, more education must be given to both doctors and patients to highlight appropriate and inappropriate antibiotic use, especially in  the case of viral illnesses that are helped by antibiotics.

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