It may be safe for physicians to prescribe fewer antibiotics, researchers say

Recent research has painted a gloomy portrait of the state of antibiotics: Clinicians prescribe them too often and patients often don't follow the course of treatment properly. These two factors have contributed to increasing rates of resistance in deadly bacteria, but limiting the amount of antibiotics prescribed has raised concerns about consequences for patients, such as bacterial complications and spreading infections. But new research from the U.K. suggests, in some instances, it might be fine to forego an antibiotic prescription.

In an analysis of patient records from more than 610 general practices in the U.K., researchers found the practices with lower rates of antibiotic prescription for respiratory tract infections did not have patients with higher rates of serious bacterial complications, thought to arise when an infection is not treated with antibiotics.

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However, practices with lower prescription rates did have slightly higher rates of pneumonia and peritonsillar abscess, both rare and treatable with antibiotics.

"Overuse of antibiotics now may result in increasing infections by resistant bacteria in the future," Martin Gulliford, PhD, lead author of the study, said in a statement. "Current treatment recommendations are to avoid antibiotics for self-limiting respiratory infections. Our results suggest that, if antibiotics are not taken, this should carry no increased risk of more serious complications."

The researchers estimated that if a practice seeing 7,000 patients per year reduced the amount of antibiotics it prescribed by 10 percent, there could be a single extra case of pneumonia each year. Reducing antibiotic prescriptions by a significant amount would also reduce the side effects about 10 percent of people who take them develop, the authors conclude. 

More articles on infection control:

Colistin-resistant E. coli is carried by seagulls, researchers suggest 
Many possible STD patients get unnecessary antibiotics, study finds 
Researchers identify effective new MRSA decolonization protocol 

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