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Treating Sore Throats with Antibiotics Does More Harm than Good, Study Says

Oct 7, 2013

Many suffering from sore throat today treat their problem with doctor-prescribed antibiotics, even though there is scant evidence to support this treatment’s effectiveness. So says a new study.

According to a Reuters report on the study, conducted at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, about 60 percent of people who sought treatment for a sore throat were prescribed an antibiotic. More recently, the use of more expensive and stronger antibiotics has increased.

Not only are antibiotics essentially ineffective at treating sore throats, the drugs can also cause serious side effects, as well as have a long-term impact on one’s health. Reuters notes that, according to the study, antibiotics can increase one’s chance of developing diarrhea or a yeast infection. Antibiotics also interact with other medication, creating the potential for even more side effects.

Taking too much antibiotics also can make it more difficult to treat infections that appear in the future.

We've been reporting on the overprescribing of antibiotics in recent years and the impact it has been having on public health. The use of more antibiotics to treat today’s ordinary conditions could strengthen the resistance of today’s germs. This increases the chances of future infections evolving into something more difficult to treat.

The study focused on more than 8,000 patients; health records were examined for antibiotic prescription rates. Of the 60 percent who received prescriptions for an antibiotic to treat a sore throat, just 10 percent were actually suffering from strep throat, which often requires an antibiotic’s treatment. Strep throat — a bacterial infection that irritates and inflames the throat — is usually caused by a virus — for which antibiotics have no purpose.

As well, those who did receive an antibiotic for strep throat were often given one that was too strong and much more expensive than ordinary penicillin, a drug that is enough to easily treat most patients’ strep throat, according to Reuters report on the study.

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