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Reduced use of antibiotics does not lead to more complications: study

A new study out of the U.K. has concluded that the reduced used of antibiotics for respiratory tract infections does not lead to higher incidence of serious bacterial complications.
A new study out of the U.K. has concluded that the reduced used of antibiotics for respiratory tract infections does not lead to higher incidence of serious bacterial complications. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Bayne Stanley

A new study out of the United Kingdom has found that reducing antibiotic use for respiratory tract infections doesn’t lead to an increase in serious complications.

Antibiotics, first discovered in 1928 when Alexander Fleming developed Penicillin, are used to treat bacterial infections. Though useless against viral infections, such as colds or sore throats, antibiotics are often prescribed to reduce the chance of bacterial complications such as viral infections. As a result of the increased use, the medical community has been concerned that it is leading to more cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

READ MORE: Experts fear newly discovered ‘superbug’ will render antibiotics useless

But the study out of King’s College London concluded that that’s not the case.

“Overuse of antibiotics now may result in increasing infections by resistant bacteria in the future,” said Martin Gulliford, lead author from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College London. ‘”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.”

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The researchers examined patient records from 610 hospitals in the U.K. with more than four million patients over 10 years. Those general practices with lower rates of prescribing antibiotics for these types of infections did not have an increase in serious bacterial complications such as meningitis, empyema (an infection in the lining of the lungs) or even a brain abscess.

READ MORE: Effort to curb overuse of antibiotics in cold, flu season

“As a practicing GP, I see very few complications from patients who have upper respiratory tract infections and who decide to opt for a non-antibiotic approach to treating their infections,” said co-author Mark Ashworth. “Patients are recognising that most upper respiratory infections are viral and virus infections do not respond to antibiotics.

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However, the study did find that those practices did have slightly higher rates of pneumonia and a rare complication in sore throats called peritonsillar abscess.

Still, the study estimates that if an average-sized general practitioner with about 7,000 patients reduced prescribing antibiotics by about 10 per cent, there would be just one extra case of pneumonia a year and one extra case of peritonsillar abscess every 10 years.

Antibiotics also produce side-effects such as rashes and diarrhea, and reducing antibiotic prescriptions would clearly reduce the discomfort people experience after its prescription.