Health watchdogs have been repetitively issuing guidelines urging doctors not to prescribe antibiotics for sore throats and bronchitis. These advisories appear to be falling on deaf ears though.

Findings of a new study, conducted by researchers Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), suggests the rate of prescription of antibiotics has remained too high for comfort during the last decade.

Study methodology and findings
The results emerge from surveys carried out from late 1990s through 2010. The data pertains to 39 million bronchitis and 92 million sore throat visits to doctors’ offices or emergency rooms.

The analysis reveals that antibiotics are being prescribed by physicians in the United States in cases where the patient does not require them.

Unwanted and inappropriate prescriptions obviously lead to excessive use of antibiotics, which in turn, may make microbes and bacteria resistant to these drugs.

The study revealed that in majority of the cases, soar throat is due to a viral infection which is self limiting.

“Our research shows that while only 10 percent of adults with sore throat have strep, the only common cause of sore throat requiring antibiotics, the national antibiotic prescribing rate for adults with sore throat has remained at 60 percent,” said Jeffrey Linder, a physician and researcher in the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care at BWH and senior author of the study.

“For acute bronchitis, the right antibiotic prescribing rate should be near zero percent and the national antibiotic prescribing rate was 73 percent,” added Linder.

The findings of the study are disappointing and frustrating.

Dr. Reid Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians said “patients’ demands and doctor’s time pressures” are the primary causes responsible for excessive prescription of antibiotics.

Such prescriptions lead to relief for the patient; if it is a bacterial infection, the medicine works; if it is a viral infection, the illness vanishes automatically. In either case, doctor takes the credit.

The results of the BWH study were presented at the IDWeek October 3 and have also been published online in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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