Too Many Antibiotics Prescribed for Sore Throats?
Most ills are caused by viruses, end on their own, researchers report
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"This leads to more antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and when we do that we don't have the antibiotics when we need them because the body has developed resistance," he said.
Siegel said the true cost of antibiotic overuse is not in the cost of the pills themselves, but rather in the consequences of treating diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and Clostridium difficile.
"This is going to be an enormous financial burden on the health care system," he said.
Linder is more concerned with the potential harmful side effects of antibiotics when they are used for conditions they can't treat.
"There is concern about antibiotic overuse causing super bugs and things we are not going to be able to treat down the line," Linder said. "I think what's missing from the conversation is the fact that we are prescribing and people are taking a medicine that has nearly a zero chance of helping them and a very real chance of hurting them."
These side effects can include allergic reactions, diarrhea, yeast infections for women, rashes or adverse interactions with other drugs, he said.
For the study, Linder and his colleague, Dr. Michael Barnett, looked at the changes in prescribing antibiotics for sore throat and acute bronchitis from 1996 to 2010.
The data included some 39 million adults with acute bronchitis and 92 million with sore throat seen by primary care physicians or in emergency departments.
Linder and Barnett found that while visits for sore throats dropped from 7.5 percent of primary care visits in 1997 to 4.3 percent in 2010, the rate at which antibiotics were prescribed didn't change, with doctors prescribing them 60 percent of the time.
In addition, emergency department visits for bronchitis increased from 1.1 million in 1996 to 3.4 million in 2010, and prescriptions for antibiotics to treat bronchitis rose from 69 percent to 73 percent.
Prescriptions for penicillin, the antibiotic recommended for strep throat, stayed at 9 percent, the researchers reported.