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Antibiotics failing in up to 50 per cent of patients

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One in six courses of antibiotics fails to treat infections – and sometimes it’s as bad as one out of every two – suggesting the age of the ‘superbug’ is getting ever closer.

The antibiotic failure rate now stands at 15.4 per cent, which means the drugs failed to treat the condition, or the patient needed a second course within a month, or suffered further complications or even died from the infection.

A study of antibiotic usage in the UK found that some doctors were still prescribing antibiotics inappropriately, and were doing so just to get the patient out of the surgery, a new analysis from Cardiff University has discovered.

The researchers reviewed prescriptions for 11 million doses over a 22-year period for conditions such as upper respiratory infections, tonsillitis, pneumonia and ear infections.

Over that period, the antibiotic effectiveness rate has fallen from 13.9 per cent to 15.4 per cent. But it was much higher for conditions such as bronchitis and pneumonia, for which the failure rate was as high as 30 per cent.

One antibiotic, trimethoprim, is now failing 70 per cent of the time for conditions such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

(Source: BMJ, 2014; 349: g5493)

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