Doctors’ Prescribing Habits May Be Linked To Antibiotic Overuse in Some Cases

Despite urgent calls over the last several years to reduce the use of antibiotics, a new study indicates that many doctors who treat veterans have actually increased prescriptions of antibiotics for ailments where the drugs are likely to have no effect. 

Researchers from the University of Utah say that more than two-thirds of clinic visits by veterans for infections likely caused by viruses, which are unaffected by antibiotics, result in antibiotic prescriptions. That number actually increased over the eight year period of the study, despite growing calls for limited antibiotic use. The findings were published on July 21 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Health experts warn that the overuse of antibiotics is resulting in the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that are more difficult to treat. It is widely recommended that doctors only prescribe antibiotics in cases of confirmed bacterial infections.

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In this latest study, researchers looked at data on acute respiratory infections in one million patients treated at 130 VA hospitals from 2005 through 2012.

Researchers found that 67.5% of visits by patients diagnosed with acute respiratory infections, such as the common cold, sinusitis, bronchitis and similar ailments usually caused by viruses resulted in antibiotic prescriptions. The findings indicate that 86% of cases of sinusitis and 85% of bronchitis cases were treated with antibiotics. There was very little variation based on fever, age, setting or comorbid conditions.

Suggesting that the prescribing was doctor driven, the results showed that the 10% of healthcare providers who prescribed the most antibiotics did so in at least 95% of acute respiratory infection cases. While those who prescribed antibiotics the least did so in less than 40% of such cases.

Concerns Over Antibiotic-Resistant “Superbugs” Growing

In June, the White House held a forum on antibiotic stewardship, calling for changes in how antibiotics are prescribed and used throughout the U.S., in order to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

The White House originally signed Executive Order 13676 in September 2014, designating the fight against antibiotic resistance as a priority. In March, the Administration released a five year plan to combat and prevent antibiotic-resistance bacteria.

At the forum, the White House received commitments on a number of stewardship practices from the private sector, including hospitals, health systems, long-term care facilities, pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, livestock and poultry farmers and animal pharmaceutical companies.

Drug-resistant superbugs recently made headlines across the country after nearly 200 patients treated at California’s UCLA Medical Center were exposed to a deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The outbreak caused two deaths, seven confirmed infections and was linked to tainted medical equipment, which had undergone normal sterilization treatment.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates drug-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, cause 2 million illnesses and approximately 23,000 deaths each year in the United States alone.

A British report published late last year said the world may see 10 million deaths attributable to antibiotic resistant bacteria every year by 2050. The report called drug-resistant germs a “global crisis,” estimating it will cost up to $100 trillion.

Another study published last year questioned the common practice of treating resistant pathogens with aggressive doses of antibiotics. The study revealed this may not be the best way to treat resistant pathogens. Using aggressive or multiple rounds of antibiotics it may contribute to the spread of superbugs.

The federal budget released earlier this year proposed a near doubling of the amount of federal funding for combating and preventing antibiotic-resistance, bringing the budget to more than $1.2 billion for this area.


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