(NaturalNews) In spite of a government effort to reduce the unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics, general practitioners in the United Kingdom are still giving out the drugs in cases where they are neither necessary nor helpful, according to a study conducted by researchers at the UCL Center for Infectious Disease Epidemiology in London and published in the British Medical Journal.
Government guidelines advise against prescribing antibiotics for sore throats, ear infections, or upper respiratory infections such as coughs, colds and sinusitis, because such infections tend to be caused by viruses. Antibiotics, which are only effective against bacteria, cannot be used to treat viral infections.
Yet researchers found that in the year 2000, two-thirds of respiratory infections were still being treated with antibiotics, along with 90 percent of chest infections, 80 percent of ear infections and 60 percent of sore throats.
While many doctors appear to believe that antibiotics reduce the risk of developing complications from such infections, the current study indicates that this is not the case. The researchers found that it would take 4,000 patients being treated with antibiotics to avoid one serious complication in cases of upper respiratory infection, ear infection or sore throat.
In contrast, it would only take 39 courses of antibiotics in chest infection patients 65 and older to prevent pneumonia. For this reason, the British government does recommend antibiotics in cases of pneumonia, and lead researcher Andrew Hayward said that more research is needed to help doctors differentiate between pneumonia and other chest infections.
Health professionals warn that overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of new drug-resistant bacteria strains.
"[This study] shows there's still clear scope for reductions in antibiotic prescribing for upper respiratory tract infections," Hayward said. "From the point of view of prevention of severe illness, [doctors] can be confident that the number of people they need to treat is really not worth it, especially as antibiotics are not without side effects and there are concerns over antibiotic resistance."