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Rapid flu test could help reduce overprescription of antibiotics

Friday, February 02, 2007 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: influenza, flu virus, antibiotics

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(NewsTarget) New flu tests that yield rapid results could help curb the overprescription of antibiotics, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers found that among flu patients, those who tested positive for influenza using the rapid test — which yields results within minutes — were less likely to be prescribed antibiotics by their doctors. Among flu patients whose sickness went undiagnosed, 99 percent received antibiotics.

Around the world, doctors have a tendency to prescribe antibiotics as a safety precaution for undiagnosed illnesses. However, these medicines are ineffective against viruses such as influenza.

"If they are ill enough to come into the hospital, if they have a fever or are elderly, almost all of those people receive an antibiotic," said Ann Falsey, a doctor in Rochester, New York, where the study was conducted. "Our tendency is to use antibiotics to be quite safe."

Experts agree that this overprescription of antibiotics contributes significantly to the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria strains. In addition, like all drugs, antibiotics may cause detrimental side effects.

The authors of the Rochester study expressed hope that their findings might help encourage doctors to check for viral infection before prescribing antibiotics.

"At least some proportion of doctors is willing to stop antibiotics when patients have a documented viral infection," Falsey said. "This is certainly encouraging, but there is a lot more work to do."

Among patients diagnosed with the rapid flu test, 86 percent were still prescribed antibiotics.

Falsey noted that influenza is not the only virus that doctors may be hopelessly trying to treat with antibiotics. While 10 percent of severe respiratory ailments are caused by the flu, she said, many other viruses may cause similar symptoms. Five to 10 percent are caused by respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

"Then there are parainfluenza viruses, coronaviruses, adenoviruses — all sorts of things," she said.


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