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Study: Antibiotic treatment of respiratory tract infections (RTIs) offers negligible benefit to affected patients!

Portrait of Dr. Martin Gulliford with red background
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Reducing antibiotic prescribing for respiratory tract infections is not linked to an increase in the most serious bacterial complications, such as bacterial meningitis. This has found out a recently in the BMJ published study. We asked study-leader Dr. Martin Gulliford, professor of public health at the King’s College in London.

About 60 percent of antibiotics prescribed in primary care are for respiratory tract infections (RTIs). Those infections (common colds, sore throat, cough, acute bronchitis, otitis media and sinusitis) are often self limiting and usually improve without specific treatment.
Martin Gulliford at King’s College London and his team investigated (they analysed patient records from 610 general practices in the U.K. from 2005 to 2014) whether reducing antibiotic prescribing for people attending their general practitioner with respiratory tract infection could have an effect on safety: “Our results suggest that, if antibiotics are not taken, this should carry no increased risk of more serious complications”, says the physician.
Gulliford and his team are estimating that if an average-sized GP practice with 7.000 patients reduced its antibiotic prescribing to people with respiratory tract infections by ten percent, there could be one extra case of pneumonia each year. They also estimate that this reduced prescribing could be linked to one extra case of peritonsillar abscess every ten years. “Both these complications can be readily treated once identified”, says Gulliford.
Nevertheless about 50 percent of all general practice consultations for RTIs result in an antibiotic prescription. Some general practices even issue prescriptions at a rate of more than 80 percent. This contrasts with practices in other countries, for example the Netherlands.
The researchers also mention, that there are some unanswered questions and further research is needed – for example research to look more specifically at patterns in children and older adults.


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