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Antibiotic Prescribing Rates May Vary by Region

It may be contributing to growing problem of drug-resistant bacteria, researcher says
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Barbara Bronson Gray

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- The chances that your doctor will give you antibiotics when you're sick may be influenced by geography, new research reveals.

It's tough to know exactly what factors contributed to the regional variations the research team found in antibiotic prescription rates, said study author Lauri Hicks, medical director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Why is West Virginia more than double compared to Alaska? I imagine there are provider factors, patient factors and cultural factors that are all shaping the impact," Hicks said.

Some patients may pressure physicians to give them what they perceive as a "quick fix" so they can get back to work sooner or return their sick child to day care, Hicks added. Unfortunately, that contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, she said.

"We should be thinking of antibiotics not as a magic bullet, but as a precious resource that we should only use when absolutely necessary," she said.

The researchers also found that there are higher rates of obesity and smoking in areas where there is more antibiotic use.

The research, published April 11 in the New England Journal of Medicine, offers fresh insight into how the way antibiotics are prescribed may be affecting the growing problem of drug resistance.

Here's what the team found:

  • In 2010, health care providers prescribed 258 million courses of antibiotics, or 833 prescriptions per 1,000 people, on average.
  • Penicillin and a class of antibiotics known as macrolides (including drugs such as azithromycin and erythromycin, for example) were the most commonly prescribed.
  • Prescription rates were higher in the South (936 prescriptions per 1,000 people) and lower in the West (639 prescriptions per 1,000 people).
  • Prescriptions were more frequently written for children under 10 and adults aged 65 and older.
  • Prescribing rates varied considerably by physician specialty.

The trends are troubling, Hicks said, as the war against bacterial infections is getting harder to fight. Increased antibiotic usage is associated with growing resistance to the drugs, she said.

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