Too many people taking unnecessary antibiotics

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Nearly one-third of all antibiotics prescribed in the United States aren’t appropriate for the conditions being treated, results of a new study show.

Lead researcher Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and her colleagues analysed more than 184,000 outpatient visits reported in a 2010-2011 national medical care survey. Of those sampled visits, nearly 13 per cent resulted in antibiotic prescriptions.

Findings show that most of these antibiotics are prescribed for respiratory conditions caused by viruses, including common colds, viral sore throats, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections, which do not necessarily respond to antibiotics. Researchers said these 47 million excess prescriptions each year put patients at needless risk for allergic reactions or the sometimes deadly diarrhea, known as Clostridium difficile.

“About half of antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory conditions were unnecessary,” Dr Fleming-Dutra said. “Nobody should be giving antibiotics for the common cold.”

The researchers added that such misuse can fuel the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which infect two million Americans and kill 23,000 every year. They also estimated the rate of inappropriate antibiotic use in adults and children by age and diagnosis, with data helping to inform efforts to help improve antibiotic prescribing in the future.

“Antibiotics are lifesaving drugs, and if we continue down the road of inappropriate use we’ll lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life-threatening infections,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Losing these antibiotics would undermine our ability to treat patients with deadly infections, cancer, provide organ transplants, and save victims of burns and trauma.”

Even though the data is five years old, researchers didn’t think the results would vary much in 2016 as there hasn’t been a lot of work dedicated to improving antibiotic use. They added that they felt many of the misused antibiotics were likely prescribed due to misunderstanding between doctors and patients.

“Doctors think the patient wants antibiotics, and they want the patient to be satisfied with their care, so that often drives clinicians to prescribe when they shouldn’t,” said Dr Fleming-Dutra.

To restrict antibiotic use, the researchers suggested running campaigns in doctors’ waiting rooms to promote awareness about the issue and to create better understanding for patients before they enter the examination room. The findings were first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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