Background: Upper-respiratory-tract infection is one of the main causes of overuse of antibiotics. We have found previously that bacteria such as Haemophilus influenzae, Moraxella catarrhalis, and Streptococcus pneumoniae can be isolated from the nasopharyngeal secretions of a substantial proportion of adults with upper-respiratory-tract infections. We have assessed the efficacy of co-amoxiclav in patients with common colds but no clinical signs of sinusitis or other indications for antibiotics.
Methods: Between January, 1992 and March, 1994, 314 patients who presented to our outpatient clinic with common colds were enrolled in the double-blind, placebo-controlled study. They were randomly assigned 5 days' treatment with co-amoxiclav (375 mg three times daily) or identical placebo. Clinical examinations were done at enrolment and on day 5-7 to assess outcome (cured, persistent symptoms, worse symptoms). Seven patients were excluded after randomisation, seven did not have nasopharyngeal aspiration, and 12 did not return for followup assessment.
Findings: Of 300 patients with nasopharyngeal aspirates, 72 had negative bacterial cultures, 167 had cultures positive only for bacteria unrelated to respiratory infections, and 61 had cultures positive for H influenzae, M catarrhalis, or S pneumoniae. At 5-day follow-up of these culture-positive patients, the distribution of outcome was significantly better among co-amoxiclav-treated (n=30) than placebo-treated (n=28) patients (cured 27 vs 4%; persistent symptoms 70 vs 60%; worse symptoms 3 vs 36%; p=0.001). Patients on co-amoxiclav also scored their symptoms significantly lower than patients on placebo (p=0.008). Among culture-negative patients (n=230), the outcome distribution did not differ between the treatment groups (p=0.392).
Interpretation: The majority of patients with upper-respiratory-tract infection do not benefit from antibiotics and side-effects are frequent. However, for the subgroup whose nasopharyngeal secretions contain H influenzae, M catarrhalis, or S pneumoniae, antibiotics are clinically beneficial.