Is there an association between long-term antibiotics for acne and subsequent infection sequelae and antimicrobial resistance? A systematic review

BJGP Open. 2021 Apr 6;BJGPO.2020.0181. doi: 10.3399/BJGPO.2020.0181. Online ahead of print.


Background: Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health priority. Acne vulgaris is a common skin condition for which antibiotic use ranges from a few months to years of daily exposure.

Aim: To systemically search for and synthesise evidence on the risk of treatment-resistant infections, and other evidence of AMR, following long-term oral antibiotic use for acne.

Design & setting: In this systematic review, a literature search was carried out using the databases Embase, MEDLINE, Cochrane, and Web of Science. They were searched using MeSH, Emtree, or other relevant terms, and followed a pre-registered protocol.

Method: Search strategies were developed with a librarian and undertaken in July 2019. All searches date from database inception. The primary outcome was antibiotic treatment failure or infection caused by a resistant organism. Secondary outcomes included detection of resistant organisms without an infection, rate of infection, or changes to flora.

Results: A total of 6996 records were identified. Seventy-three full-text articles were shortlisted for full review, of which five were included. Two investigated rates of infection, and three resistance or changes to microbial flora. Three studies had 35 or fewer participants (range 20-118 496). Three studies had a serious or high risk of bias, one moderate, and one a low risk of bias. Weak evidence was found for an association between antibiotic use for acne and subsequent increased rates of upper respiratory tract infections and pharyngitis.

Conclusion: There is a lack of high quality evidence on the relationship between oral antibiotics for acne treatment and subsequent AMR sequelae. This needs to be urgently addressed with rigorously conducted studies.

Keywords: acne vulgaris; antibiotic; antimicrobial resistance; dihydrofolate reductase inhibitor; macrolides; tetracycline.