Why antibiotics may not help patients survive their viral infections: new research
New data suggests 'huge overuse of antibiotics'
Most patients who are admitted to hospitals with acute viral infections are given antibiotics by their doctors or health care providers as a precaution against bacterial co-infection.
Yet new research suggests this practice may not improve their survival rates.
Researchers investigated the impact of antibiotic use on survival in more than 2,100 patients in a hospital in Norway between the years 2017 and 2021, Reuters reported.
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The researchers found that giving antibiotics to people with common respiratory infections was unlikely to lower the risk of death within 30 days.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, antibiotics were prescribed for around 70% of COVID-19 patients in some countries, Reuters also said.
This potentially has contributed to the scourge of antibiotic-resistant pathogens known as superbugs.
The new data has not been published in a medical journal to date.
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It suggests that there is "a huge overuse of antibiotics," said lead author Dr. Magrit Jarlsdatter Hovind from Akershus University Hospital and the University of Oslo, Norway, according to Reuters.
It suggests there is "a huge overuse of antibiotics."
Microbes have become resistant to many treatments, given the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.
Scientists consider this development a tremendous threat to global health, given that the pipeline of replacement therapies in development is alarmingly sparse, Reuters also noted.
Research will be presented next month
The latest research is to be presented at next month's European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases in Copenhagen.
It involved patients who tested positive via nasal or throat swab for viral infections such as the flu, RSV or COVID-19.
Those with confirmed bacterial infections were excluded from the analysis.
In total, 63% of the 2,111 patients received antibiotics for their respiratory infections during their hospital stay.
Overall, 168 patients died within 30 days — of which only 22 had not been prescribed antibiotics.
After accounting for factors such as sex, age, severity of disease and underlying illnesses among the patients, the researchers found those prescribed antibiotics during their hospital stay were twice as likely to die within 30 days than those not given antibiotics.
"Doctors have to dare to not give antibiotics, instead of doubting and giving antibiotics just in case."
Both the sicker patients and those with more underlying illnesses were more likely to get antibiotics and to die, the research team noted.
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Other factors such as patients' smoking status could have also played a role, they said.
"Doctors have to dare to not give antibiotics, instead of doubting and giving antibiotics just in case," Hovind said, according to Reuters.
There are limitations of a retrospective study such as this one.
It is why a clinical trial, which Hovind and colleagues recently initiated, is needed to determine whether patients admitted to the hospital with common respiratory infections should be treated with antibiotics, she said, as Reuters reported.
Tackling the shortages of antibiotics
Meanwhile, in late January 2023, a group of European patient and consumer groups told the European Union's drug regulator that it needs to do more to tackle shortages of some widely used antibiotics in the region, according to a letter sent and reviewed by Reuters.
The letter to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) comes as antibiotics, including amoxicillin, have been in short supply since last October, as Reuters reported.
The letter said measures like substituting amoxicillin with other antibiotics have squeezed supply of some other drugs — and that the current steps in place to deal with the shortages have not contained the crisis.
There has been a spike in demand for certain drugs linked to the resurgence of respiratory infections after two years of COVID restrictions, putting extra pressure on global supplies.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, drugmakers cut output.
Drugmakers also cut output when demand dipped at the height of the pandemic.
But the letter highlighted growing concerns about prolonged shortages in the region even as the winter comes to an end.
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In another recent study on a related topic, children who contracted lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) at two years of age or younger were found to be more likely to die prematurely from that same condition as adults.
These types of infections were linked to one-fifth of the deaths.
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The study was conducted by a group of London researchers and led by Dr. James Peter Allinson of the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London. It was published in The Lancet in early March.
The eight-decade study analyzed data from the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development, which followed 3,589 participants in England, Scotland and Wales all born in March 1946.
Melissa Rudy of Fox News Digital, as well as Reuters, contributed reporting to this article.