Almost one-third of United States-prescribed antibiotics are not appropriate for the medical issues being resolved, a federal government study has warned.
Using 2010 to 2011 data from a national survey, a team of researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led by Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra concluded that at least 30 percent of antibiotics given in doctors' offices as well as hospital-based clinics and emergency rooms are rather unnecessary. This meant the antibiotics were not at all needed.
“Half of antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory conditions may have been unnecessary, representing 34 million antibiotic prescriptions annually,” cited the authors as one of their findings, recommending a 15 percent cut in overall antibiotic use to meet the national goal of slashing unnecessary antibiotic use in half by 2020.
Such misuse is seen to fuel antibiotic resistance bacteria or superbugs, which now affect two million Americans and lead 23,000 to their grave every year, according to the CDC. Antibiotic use primarily drives antibiotic resistance, leading to dire consequences ranging from allergies to difficult-to-treat infections and even death.
The misuse is most pronounced in treating short-term respiratory issues including colds, sinus and ear infections, and sore throats, reported the authors.
The team analyzed over 184,000 outpatient cases, of which almost 13 percent entailed antibiotic prescriptions. Relying on nationally-set treatment guidelines, the team looked for health conditions that were not supposed to be addressed using antibiotic drugs.
“Nobody should be giving antibiotics for the common cold. It gets better without antibiotics,” Fleming-Dutra said.
Dr. Sara Cosgrove of Johns Hopkins University said in an accompanying editorial that, while the data obtained was from five years ago, things are not any different if one looks in 2016, with little work done to improve the use of antibiotics.
“If we know that an antibiotic is really not likely to make people feel better, we still can provide alternatives for symptom relief that will help people feel better,” Cosgrove argued, pointing to a relatively simple solution: placing a poster in doctors’ waiting rooms indicating a resolution to avoid antibiotic overuse.
CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden warned that, while antibiotics are lifesavers, inappropriate use will make humans lose them as a potent tool to fight life-threatening infections.
“[This] would undermine our ability to treat patients with deadly infections, cancer, provide organ transplants, and save victims of burns and trauma,” he said.
The World Health Organization has deemed antibiotic resistance a global health crisis. The White House, too, has made improved antibiotic use – as well as the creation of new antibiotic medications – a priority.
The findings were published May 3 in the journal JAMA.