The study was published online in JAMA Internal Medicine (10/3/13). The study’s authors note that the preferred method of treating group A Streptococcus (GAS) infection is with penicillin because it is well tolerated by patients, it is inexpensive and it works universally on GAS. GAS, the authors note, is responsible for approximately 10 percent of sore throats.
But an editorial accompanying the study, “Choosing Wisely, and Soon” (10/3/13), notes that although only 10 percent of sore throats are caused by GAS, 60 percent of patients with sore throats were given antibiotics. And despite the benefits to using penicillin, use of penicillin declined since 1998, while the use of azithromycin increased.
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But penicillin was reportedly only prescribed in approximately nine percent of cases of sore throat.
In an unpublished study that was also presented to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, researchers found that approximately 75 percent of patients with bronchitis are given antibiotics, even though bronchitis is usually caused by a virus rather than a bacterial infection. All this unnecessary use of strong antibiotics puts patients at risk of suffering adverse reactions, and in some cases, the patients are not receiving any benefit from the antibiotics. Finally, overuse of these antibiotics makes it more likely that bacterial resistance to antibiotics will increase, making antibiotics less effective.