A new study by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has concluded that the use of antibiotics to lower the risk of complications after upper respiratory tract infection, sore throat, or ear infection is unjustified.
Despite guidelines advising against antibiotics being used in this way, in 2000 they were still prescribed to 47 per cent of patients with respiratory tract infection, 80 per cent of those with ear infections and 60 per cent of sore throat sufferers.
The authors looked at 3.36 million episodes of respiratory tract infection recorded between 1991 and 2001 in the UK General Practice Research Database.
They found that serious complications were rare and that while antibiotics reduced the risk, over 4,000 courses were needed to prevent one complication.
In contrast, the risk of pneumonia after chest infection was high, particularly in elderly people, and was significantly reduced by antibiotic use. The authors therefore determined that prescribing antibiotics to avert the risk of pneumonia after chest infection is justified, particularly in the case older patients.
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