One-third of antibiotic prescriptions unnecessary, CDC says

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Close to 30% of antibiotics prescribed in the United States aren't necessary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.

The CDC's data, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that most of the unnecessary antibiotics prescribed are given for respiratory conditions such as common colds, sore throats, bronchitis and ear infections — which are caused by viruses and don't respond to antibiotics.

Of the 184,000 doctor visits sampled as part of the CDC investigation, 12.6% resulted in the patient receiving an antibiotic prescription. That adds up to nearly 47 million excess prescriptions each year in the U.S., and put patients at risk for allergic reactions and Clostridium difficile, the CDC said.

“Antibiotics are lifesaving drugs, and if we continue down the road of inappropriate use, we'll lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life-threatening infections,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., MPH., in a press release on the agency's findings.

The White House targeted unnecessary antibiotics use with the release of its National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in 2015, which aims to reduce inappropriate antibiotic use by at least half by 2020.

For nursing home residents, unnecessary prescribing is especially risky, bringing high chances of C. diff and other adverse reactions, even to residents who did not receive antibiotics. The issue of overprescribing in post-acute and long-term care facilities is currently under scrutiny in a $1.5 million, three-year national trial led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.