Colonies of E. coli bacteria grown on a Hektoen enteric (HE) agar plate are seen in a microscopic image courtesy of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). U.S. health officials on May 26, 2016 reported the first case in the country of a patient with E. coli bacteria carrying the mcr-1 gene, an infection resistant to all known antibiotics. Reuters/CDC/Handout

A new report has suggested that patients suffering from common coughs, colds, sore throats and earaches won’t be put at greater risk of contracting serious infections, such as bacterial meningitis, if doctors stop prescribing antibiotics. A UK study of four million patients for over a decade has revealed the need for doctors to stop overprescribing antibiotics.

The medical industry is battling to stop overuse of antibiotics. Widespread and inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the development of bacteria strains that are resistant to antibiotics. The study, published in the journal BMJ, investigated if reducing antibiotic prescriptions for people attending their GP with respiratory tract infections could compromise safety.

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“Overuse of antibiotics now may result in increasing infections by resistant bacteria in the future. Current treatment recommendations are to avoid antibiotics for self-limiting respiratory infections. Our results suggest that, if antibiotics are not taken, this should carry no increased risk of more serious complications,” lead author from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King's College London, professor Martin Gulliford, said in a statement.

Most respiratory tract infections do not require prescribing antibiotics as they are caused by viruses that go away even without treatment. Moreover, antibiotic treatment has minimal effect of severity and duration of symptoms in these cases but may have severe side-effects.

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He added that “general practices prescribing fewer antibiotics may have slightly higher rates of pneumonia and peritonsillar abscess but even a substantial reduction in antibiotic prescribing may be associated with only a small increase in the numbers of cases observed. Both these complications can be readily treated once identified.”

The study observed that reducing antibiotic use may also reduce the number of people experiencing the side-effects of the drug. Around 10 percent of patients who take antibiotic experience side-effects such as diarrhoea, vomiting and rashes. Rare cases may include anaphylaxis.