Reduced intake of antibiotics for respiratory tract infections doesn't cause increased risks of serious complications, a new study has found. The news comes amid concerns of the growing antibiotic crisis.
Antibiotics are used for the treatment of bacterial infections. While they don't work against viral infections (sore throats, colds), the medicine is still often prescribed to help lower the chances of bacterial complications, which include viral infections.
This leads to the increased usage of antibiotics and growing concerns among the medical community that the practice is fueling more cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
"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," said lead author Martin Gulliford from of King's College London's Division of Health and Social Care Research.
In the study, the research team analyzed the medical records of patients from 610 UK-based hospitals. For more than 10 years, the team monitored a participant pool that consisted of more than 4 million patients.
The researchers found that general practices with lower antibiotic prescription rates for these infection types did not lead to an increase in the development of more serious bacterial complications such as empyema, meningitis and brain abscess.
Co-author and general practitioner Mark Ashworth shared that among his patients with upper respiratory tract infections, he sees "very few" complications among those who choose a treatment approach that doesn't involve antibiotics.
Ashworth added that patients are realizing that the majority of these infections are viral and as such, antibiotics will not work.
However, the findings also showed that these general practices had slightly increased rates in the development of pneumonia as well as peritonsillar abscess, which is a rare complication of the sore throat.
The researchers estimated that if a general practitioner, with approximately 7,000 patients, reduced antibiotic prescriptions by 10 percent, only one pneumonia case will be added annually and one peritonsillar abscess case will be added every 10 years.
This estimated reduction could lead to about 2,000 fewer prescriptions of antibiotics for each general practitioner over a 10-year period.
A reduced antibiotic intake carries many benefits, which include lowered risks of common side effects such as vomiting, rashes, diarrhea and anaphylaxis.
"Our paper should reassure GPs and patients that rare bacterial complications of respiratory infections are indeed rare," said Ashworth.
The study was published in the British Medical Journal on July 5.
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment program funded the study. The research also received support from King's College London and Guy's and St. Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust's NIHR Biomedical Research Center.