Got a Cold? Rethink Those Antibiotics

Antibiotic use guidelines issued by American College of Physicians, CDC

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) Antibiotics can be a lifesaver for serious infections. But used unnecessarily, they can lead to a much bigger problem.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have just issued some new guidelines on antibiotic use. These guidelines are for adults who have acute respiratory tract infections, or ARTIs. The bottom line: antibiotics should not be used unless a patient clearly has a bacterial infection or shows no signs of improvement after 10 days or more.

"Inappropriate use of antibiotics for ARTIs is an important factor contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections, which is a public health threat," said ACP President Wayne J. Riley, MD, MPH, in a press release. "Reducing overuse of antibiotics for ARTIs in adults is a [way] to improve quality of care, lower health care costs, and slow and/or prevent the continued rise in antibiotic resistance."

ARTIs, including the common cold, bronchitis, sore throat and sinus infections, are the most common reason US adults visit the doctor's office, according to the CDC.

Many of these conditions are caused by viral infections, for which antibiotics are not effective. Using antibiotics in these cases increases the risks of both antibiotic-resistant germs and negative side effects.

The CDC estimates that as many as 50 percent of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary or inappropriate. Antibiotics are also the largest cause of medication-related adverse events and responsible for about 1 in 5 ER visits for adverse drug reactions.

The new guidelines recommend physicians not prescribe antibiotics for ARTIs in most cases, noting that these conditions normally last about two weeks and resolve on their own. Symptomatic treatment, such as cough medicines, antihistamines and decongestants is recommended. Many of these treatments are available to patients over-the-counter.

If a physician suspects pneumonia or group A streptococcal pharyngitis, more commonly known as strep throat, antibiotics may be appropriate. Antibiotics may also be considered for patients who have severe symptoms, such as high fever, or if symptoms get worse after five or more days of illness.

The new guidelines were published Jan. 18 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
January 14, 2016
Last Updated:
January 18, 2016