Up to 56% of adults have received inappropriate antibiotics for bacterial infections: study

Up to 56 percent of U.S. adults received inappropriate antibiotics for common bacterial respiratory infections between 2016 and 2018, according to findings from researchers at Washington University in St. Louis. 

Researchers used a commercial database to analyze claims data for adults aged 18 to 64 who had an outpatient diagnosis of common bacterial or viral respiratory infections between April 2016 to September 2018. Data from more than 3.2 million adults were included. 

Between 43 percent and 56 percent of adults received inappropriate antibiotics for bacterial infections, according to the findings, which were published Nov. 9 in Clinical Infectious Diseases. For those with viral respiratory infections such as the flu, between 7 and 66 percent inappropriately received antibiotics. Inappropriate antibiotics were tied to increased risks of adverse drug events, ranging from allergic reactions to C. diff infections. The study found about $69 million in excess healthcare costs were attributed to inappropriate antibiotic prescribing in 2017 — $49.6 million for pharyngitis and $19.1 million for sinus infections. 

The Pew Charitable Trusts' Antibiotic Resistance Project cited the findings in a Jan. 27 fact sheet on the risks and costs associated with unnecessary antibiotic prescribing in the U.S., which fuels the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

"Improving antibiotic prescribing through the expansion of antibiotic stewardship efforts is critical to minimizing the threat of resistance, improving patient care, and reducing spending," the Pew fact sheet said. "Healthcare stakeholders — including payers and healthcare systems — all have a role to play in supporting stewardship efforts in outpatient practices."

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