Despite abundant evidence showing that antibiotics don’t work against viral infections, many doctors still prescribe them — especially amoxicillin or azithromycin (Zithromax) — for lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis, even after ruling out pneumonia.
That practice should change if medical practitioners follow the latest research published Wednesday in the journal Lancet. The European researchers randomly assigned amoxicillin or placebos to more than 2,000 patients diagnosed with bronchitis because of severe coughs, chest congestion, and other cold symptoms lingering for more than a week. They found that not only did antibiotics fail to alleviate or resolve symptoms faster than a placebo, but the drugs were more likely to lead to side effects including nausea, diarrhea, or rashes.
“Neither duration of symptoms nor symptom severity was significantly affected by amoxicillin,” wrote the study authors. The study excluded patients suspected of having pneumonia — for which antibiotic treatment has been shown to be beneficial.
The researchers did find a small benefit to antibiotic treatment: Those who took the drugs were less likely to develop new or a worsening of their symptoms compared with those who took placebos. That said, 30 patients needed to be treated with the antibiotic in order for one to experience these benefits.