Don’t treat colds with antibiotics, confirm researchers

Drugs, medicine

Most upper respiratory infections such as colds and ear infections are viral--and they don’t respond to antibiotics. Still, doctors often prescribe antibiotics for such ailments, which is one of the culprits behind the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Doctors should continue to err on the side of not prescribing antibiotics for viral infections--even when there’s a rare chance that bacterial complications associated with respiratory infections can occur, according to a study published in the BMJ.

In their study of more than 4 million patients at 610 physician practices in the United Kingdom, researchers found that practices that prescribed fewer antibiotics to treat respiratory tract infections didn’t witness an increased rate of bacterial complications such as meningitis, brain abscess or infections of the mastoid bone behind the ear.

Digital Transformation

Unlock the Digital Front Door with an App

The Member Mobile App is the smarter and better way to engage members anytime and anywhere. Members can find the right doctors, receive alerts, track spending, use telehealth, and more — all within a guided, intuitive, and seamless experience. Built exclusively for payers, it is ready to install and launch in a few months. Request a consult on how to enable the digital front door with the Mobile App, today.

“Our paper should reassure [general practitioners] and patients that rare bacterial complications of respiratory infections are indeed rare,” said Mark Ashworth, M.D, one of the study authors from the King’s College London’s division of health and social care research, in an announcement. “Fortunately, if there are any signs of a complication, the [general practitioner] can quickly step in and offer an appropriate antibiotic.”

There are slightly higher rates of pneumonia and peritonsillar abscess--a complication related to tonsillitis--when doctors limit prescriptions for upper respiratory infections, researchers discovered. In real-world terms, that means that a practice with 7,000 patients that reduces such prescribing behavior by 10 percent could lead to one case of pneumonia each year. Practices of this size may also see an extra case of peritonsillar abscess every ten years, according to the study.

The results of this study represent averages across physician practices, say researchers, who note that they didn’t focus on outcomes for individual patients.

- read the study
- check out the announcement

Suggested Articles

While accessing healthcare may never be as simple as shopping on Amazon, it can be far easier than before.

On the heels of a $51 million funding round in March, Olive just secured $106 million in financing as the demand for automation solutions grows.

In a video chat with JAMA Editor-in-Chief Howard Bauchner, M.D., experts raised alarm about political meddling in federal scientific agencies' work.