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Am J Emerg Med. 2009 Jun;27(5):544-51. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2008.04.015.

Antibiotic prescribing for presumed nonbacterial acute respiratory tract infections.

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  • 1VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion (151C-H), Pittsburgh, PA 15206, USA.



The objective of the study was to identify patient and provider factors associated with prescribing antibiotics for outpatients with acute respiratory tract infections of likely nonbacterial etiology.


We identified outpatients who were diagnosed in the emergency department with nonspecific upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) and acute bronchitis at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System from June 15, 2003, to June 14, 2004, and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center from November 30, 2003, to March 31, 2004. Stepwise logistic regression was used to identify factors independently associated with antibiotic prescribing.


Overall, 26% of the 667 eligible patients with URIs and/or acute bronchitis received antibiotics. Antibiotics were prescribed significantly more frequently for acute bronchitis at one site (97% vs 65%, P < .001). Using multivariable analysis, the following factors were independently associated with antibiotic prescribing (odds ratio, 95% confidence interval): presence of 1 or more comorbidities (2.1, 1.2-3.5), fever (2.5, 1.4-4.4), purulent sputum (2.5, 1.5-4.4), shortness of breath (2.8, 1.4-5.4), altered breath sounds (4.6, 2.4-8.6), diagnosis of acute bronchitis (15.9, 8.0-31.8), provider age > or = 30 years (2.6, 1.1-6.3), and noninternal medicine specialty (2.7, 1.2-6.0).


Antibiotic use was high and varied substantially for URIs and acute bronchitis. Specific signs and symptoms, a diagnosis of acute bronchitis, and provider age and specialty were associated with antibiotic prescribing. Interventions to decrease inappropriate prescribing should address the perceived utility of antibiotics in acute bronchitis and the accuracy of signs and symptoms in diagnosing a bacterial respiratory infection.

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