Study: Flu Symptoms Boost Antibiotic Use, Antibiotic Resistance During Winter Months

Aug 7, 2012, 2:25 PM

Although a June study in Pediatrics noted a recent drop in antibiotics prescribed for infants, children and adolescents relative to past years, prescriptions continue to be high in winter months and may lead to increased antibiotic resistance, according to a new study in Clinical Infectious Diseases.  Research on the link between flu and a rise in antibiotic prescribing in the winter was conducted by Extending the Cure, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pioneer Portfolio, to research and examine solutions to antibiotic resistance.

The Clinical Infectious Diseases study found that increases in prescription sales for two popular groups of antibiotics during flu season led to a rapid increase, one month later, in resistant Escherichia coli (E. coli) in hospitals, as well as a rise in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas (MRSA), linked to the seasonal increase in antibiotic prescriptions.

In a recent op-ed published in Modern Healthcare, Ramanan Laxminarayan, study author and director of Extending the Cure, offered recommendations to help decease use of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance, such as giving all healthy people age 6 months and up the flu shot—because if fewer people experience flu symptoms, fewer people will receive unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions.

“It’s time to start viewing antibiotics as a natural resource that can be depleted with overuse, much like oil or other natural resources, and which must be conserved so these resources are there for us when we need them,” says Laxminarayan.

>>Read a related Q&A with Ramanan Laxminarayan, executive director of Extending the Cure, where he talks about the need for a shift in social norms around parents asking for antibiotics for their children when it may not be needed.

>>Bonus Link:  Read a policy brief from Extending the Cure about strategies to reduce doctor’s over-prescribing of antibiotics including education programs, incentives and mandating appropriate prescribing.  

>>New Study:  A new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that adding data on circulating infections to electronic health records helps reduce antibiotic overuse by giving doctors real-time data to inform diagnosis on viral or bacterial infections. 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.