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Eliminating Antibiotics For Upper Respiratory Infections Could Reduce Overuse: Study

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Many people are unnecessarily given antibiotics for ailments like the flu and other upper respiratory infections, even though the drugs are not effective treatments for those ailments and may increase the risk of antibiotic resistence. 

In a study published in the June issue of the journal JAMA Network Open, researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that eliminating antibiotic treatment for upper respiratory infections and improving access to rapid virus diagnostic tests for the flu can help reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.

Antibiotic overuse has been blamed for the growing resistance among some pathogens in recent years, contributing to the emergency of so-called “superbugs”, which are becoming more common.

Roughly one-in-seven hospital infections are antibiotic resistant now. Unless steps are taken to curb antibiotic overuse, the spread of antibiotic resistant superbugs will continue, researchers warn.

In the latest study, CDC researchers analyzed data for nearly 15,000 outpatients with acute respiratory infections. More than 40% of the patients were prescribed antibiotics. However, 41% had diagnoses that don’t call for antibiotics, such as viral upper respiratory tract infections or bronchitis.

Those types of ailments are viral, not bacterial, and don’t benefit from courses of antibiotics. However, researchers found doctors often prescribed antibiotics for these ailments anyway, despite their training.

About 30% of the patients who were diagnosed with the flu were given antibiotics. Of those, nearly 40% were tested for pharyngitis and group A streptococcus and had negative results for those infections.

More so, 38% of patients with sinusitis who were given antibiotics at their visit had only suffered symptoms for less than three days before visiting the doctor. Researchers warn this is not enough time for the virus to take its course, allowing the body to heal on its own. Instead, patients came in searching for “quick fix” treatments.

Doctors often prescribed antibiotics despite their having no affect on those ailments. Despite consistent warnings linking overprescription of antibiotics to increased superbugs, antibiotic use has not change in U.S. hospitals.

In these cases, antibiotic therapy was not required. Researchers warned it is important to eliminate antibiotic treatment of viral upper respiratory tract infections and improve doctor adherence to antibiotic prescribing guidelines for pharyngitis and sinusitis.

The researchers also determined that clinicians need increased access to rapid virus diagnostic tests for the flu to help reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescribing.

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