Growing Use of Antibiotics Concerns Health Officials

Growing Use of Antibiotics Concerns Health Officials

Doctors in the United Kingdom need to drastically scale back on prescribing antibiotics for respiratory tract infections, according to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

NICE, the agency responsible for deciding which treatments are most cost-effective for the United Kingdom’s public health system, expressed concern that overuse of antibiotics could not only expose patients to unnecessary and risky side effects, but could also encourage the development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant strains of common pathogens.

“Management of respiratory tract infections in the past concentrated on advising prompt antibiotic treatment,” said Paul Little of NICE. “However, as rates of major complications are much less common in modern developed countries, so the evidence of symptomatic benefit should be strong to justify prescribing antibiotics so that we are not needlessly exposing patients to side effects.”

The majority of colds, sore throats and other respiratory infections are caused by viruses, and as such cannot be treated effectively by antibiotics, NICE said. It encouraged doctors to reassure patients that the drugs will not help them, or at least to wait before prescribing them. The use of antibiotics might still be justified in certain elderly patients or those showing symptoms of serious illnesses, however.

Respiratory tract infections account for 60 percent of the general practice antibiotic prescriptions in the United Kingdom, and approximately 25 percent of doctor’s visits in England and Wales.

NICE’s warning comes amidst rising global concern over the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Because antibiotics kill normal bacteria but leave the drug-resistant strains unharmed, overuse of the drugs tends to create the perfect environment for drug-resistant bacteria to reproduce and spread without competition. Already, MRSA has become the most common organism responsible for skinned, soft tissue and surgical-site infections in the United States.

MRSA has a mortality rate three times higher than conventional S. aureus infections.

Sources for this story include: www.reuters.com.

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