Holding off on Antibiotics is Safe and Effective for Patients

According to an analysis published in BMJ Today, delayed antibiotic prescribing is a safe and effective strategy for most patients with respiratory tract infections.

Delayed antibiotic prescribing—also known as ‘just in case prescribing’—is when patients agree to see whether symptoms settle before collecting a prescription, in order to help reduce antibiotic use.

Delayed prescribing was shown to be associated with a similar duration of symptoms as no antibiotic prescribing and is not likely to lead to poorer symptom control than immediate antibiotic prescribing. In children with immediate antibiotics a slight benefit was seen but this was not judged important enough to justify immediate antibiotic prescribing.

Respiratory tract infections affect the sinuses, throat, airways or lungs and include conditions such as the common cold, sore throat, cough and ear infection. While most improve without treatment, antibiotics are still widely being prescribed for these conditions.

It has been suggested in various clinical trials that delayed antibiotic prescribing for respiratory tract infections is probably safe and effective for most patients, but they were unable to examine different groups of patients or complications.

To address this, an international research team set out to assess the effect of delayed antibiotic prescribing on symptoms for patients with respiratory tract infections in the community.

They used individual patient data on a total of 55 682 patients from nine randomised controlled trials and four observational studies to compare average symptom severity between delayed versus no antibiotic prescribing, and delayed versus immediate antibiotic prescribing.

Most of the studies took place in primary care settings with the average age of study participants ranging from 2.7 to 51.7 years.

The researchers accounted for factors including age, sex, previous duration of illness, severity of symptoms, smoking status and underlying conditions. Average symptom severity was measured two to four days after initial consultation on a seven point scale (ranging from normal to as bad as could be).

The researchers found no difference in symptom severity for delayed versus immediate antibiotics or delayed versus no antibiotics.

Symptom duration was slightly longer in those given delayed versus immediate antibiotics (11.4 v 10.9 days), but was similar for delayed versus no antibiotics.

Complications resulting in hospital admission or death were lower with delayed versus no antibiotics and delayed versus immediate antibiotics, but neither result was statistically significant.

Re-consultation rates were significantly reduced and an increase in patient satisfaction were found for delayed versus no antibiotics, but not for delayed versus immediate antibiotics.

Children under 5 years of age showed slightly more severe symptoms with delayed antibiotics than with immediate antibiotics, but this was not considered to be clinically meaningful, and this was not seen in older age groups.

 hey concluded that delayed antibiotic prescribing “appears to be a safe and effective strategy for most patients, including those in higher risk subgroups.”

This was a large, detailed analysis accounting for differences in study design and quality to reduce bias. The researchers nevertheless pointed out some limitations, being unable to exclude the possibility that other unmeasured factors may have affected their results.

Source: Medical Xpress

Journal information: Beth Stuart et al, Delayed antibiotic prescribing for respiratory tract infections: individual patient data meta-analysis, BMJ (2021). DOI: 10.1136/bmj.n808

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