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Antibiotics 'ineffective for coughs'

31 December, 2012

Kent: Antibiotics are ineffective in treating patients with persistent coughs caused by mild chest infections, the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal reports.

About 2,000 patients across 12 European countries filled in an 'illness' diary.

The study found that the severity and duration of symptoms in patients treated with antibiotics were no different to those given a placebo.

But experts caution that if pneumonia is suspected, antibiotics should still be used due to the disease's severity.

Prof Paul Little from the University of Southampton, who led the research, said: "Using the antibiotic amoxicillin to treat respiratory infections in patients not suspected of having pneumonia is not likely to help and could be harmful.

Most mild chest infections will settle by themselves with no need for antibiotics - as mainly caused by viruses"

Overuse of antibiotics, dominated by primary care prescribing, particularly when they are ineffective, can lead to the development of resistance and have side effects like diarrhoea, rash and vomiting.

Previous research into whether or not antibiotics are beneficial in the treatment of chest infections, where symptoms include shortness of breath, weakness, high fever, coughing and fatigue, have produced conflicting results- particularly in older people where chest infections can lead to further complications.

This study randomly divided patients into two groups - one received the antibiotic and the other was given a placebo, an inert treatment in the form of a sugar pill, three times a day for seven days.

The study found little difference in the severity and duration of symptoms reported between groups. This was also true for older patients - those aged 60 years or over - who made up nearly a third of the study.

And those taking antibiotics were reported to have more side effects including nausea, rash and diarrhoea than those given the placebo. Drug resistance

Chest infections are one of the most common problems patients go to their GP about.

Dr Nick Hopkinson, a member of the British Lung Foundation, thought the study was helpful back-up when patients ask them for antibiotics.

He said: "Some patients with mild chest infections will ask for a prescription - this study can help GPs suggest it may not be the best thing for them.

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