Delayed antibiotics for respiratory infections

Geoffrey K P Spurling*, Chris B. Del Mar, Liz Dooley, Ruth Foxlee, Rebecca Farley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

101 Citations (Scopus)
326 Downloads (Pure)


Concerns exist regarding antibiotic prescribing for acute respiratory tract infections (ARTIs) owing to adverse reactions, cost and antibacterial resistance. One strategy to reduce antibiotic prescribing is to provide prescriptions but to advise delay in the hope symptoms will resolve first. This is an update of a Cochrane Review originally published in 2007 and updated in 2010. To evaluate the use of delayed antibiotics compared to immediate or no antibiotics as a prescribing strategy for ARTIs. We evaluated clinical outcomes including duration and severity measures for pain, malaise, fever, cough and rhinorrhoea in sore throat, acute otitis media, bronchitis (cough) and the common cold. We also evaluated the outcomes of antibiotic use, patient satisfaction, antibiotic resistance and re-consultation rates and use of alternative therapies. We searched CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2013, Issue 2), which includes the Acute Respiratory Infection Group's Specialised Register; Ovid MEDLINE (January 1966 to February Week 3 2013); Ovid MEDLINE In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations (28 February 2013); EMBASE (1990 to 2013 Week 08); Science Citation Index - Web of Science (2007 to May 2012) and EBSCO CINAHL (1982 to 28 February 2013). Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) involving participants of all ages defined as having an ARTI, where delayed antibiotics were compared to antibiotics used immediately or no antibiotics. Three review authors independently extracted and collected data. Important adverse effects, including adverse effects of antibiotics and complications of disease, were included as secondary outcomes. We assessed the risk of bias of all included trials. We contacted trial authors to obtain missing information where available. Ten studies, with a total of 3157 participants, were included in this review. Heterogeneity of the 10 included studies and their results generally precluded meta-analysis with patient satisfaction being an exception.There was no difference between delayed, immediate and no prescribed antibiotics for the clinical outcomes evaluated in cough and common cold. In patients with acute otitis media (AOM) and sore throat immediate antibiotics were more effective than delayed for fever, pain and malaise in some studies. There were only minor differences in adverse effects with no significant difference in complication rates.Delayed antibiotics resulted in a significant reduction in antibiotic use compared to immediate antibiotics. A strategy of no antibiotics resulted in least antibiotic use.Patient satisfaction favoured immediate antibiotics over delayed (odds ratio (OR) 0.52; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.35 to 0.76). Delayed and no antibiotics had similar satisfaction rates with both strategies achieving over 80% satisfaction (OR 1.44; 95% CI 0.99 to 2.10).There was no difference in re-consultation rates for immediate and delayed groups.None of the included studies evaluated antibiotic resistance. Most clinical outcomes show no difference between strategies. Delay slightly reduces patient satisfaction compared to immediate antibiotics (87% versus 92%) but not compared to none (87% versus 83%). In patients with respiratory infections where clinicians feel it is safe not to prescribe antibiotics immediately, no antibiotics with advice to return if symptoms do not resolve is likely to result in the least antibiotic use, while maintaining similar patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes to delayed antibiotics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD004417
Number of pages65
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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