Background: The overuse of antibiotics results in the unnecessary spread of resistant strains. A common setting for antibiotic overuse is in the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections (URIs), which are predominantly due to viruses.
Objective: To investigate the type and frequency of antibiotic prescription for URI without apparent bacterial infection in Japan, based on both visits and facilities.
Design: Cross-sectional analysis of insurance claims submitted to an employer-sponsored health insurance plan in Japan between January and March, 2005 for diagnoses of URI. Claims having a potentially valid reason for antibiotic prescription (e.g., secondary diagnosis of pneumonia) were excluded.
Outcome measures: Antibiotics prescribed for these URI visits.
Results: From a total of 24,134 claims, 2,577 claims (non-bacterial URI, one visit per claim) were analyzed; antibiotics were prescribed in 60% of these visits. Third-generation cephalosporins were the most commonly-prescribed drug class (46%), followed by macrolides (27%) and quinolones (16%). In general, visits to physician offices were more likely to result in an antibiotic prescription than visits to hospital outpatient clinics. No statistically significant difference was identified among hospital types, including private and public ownership or teaching hospital status. Analysis of the frequency of antibiotic prescription by facility revealed two peaks in distribution, with one group prescribing to about 90% of URI patients and the second appearing to prescribe to about 40% of patients.
Conclusion: Antibiotics are frequently prescribed to URI patients in Japan. Although overuse results from the difficulty in accurately distinguishing viral from bacterial URIs, some facilities appear to attempt to differentiate the underlying cause of the URI while others do not.