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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Concurrent acute illness and comorbid conditions poorly predict antibiotic use in upper respiratory tract infections: a cross-sectional analysis

Ilene H Zuckerman1, Eli N Perencevich23 and Anthony D Harris3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research, School of Pharmacy, University of Maryland, Baltimore, 220 Arch Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 21201, USA

2 VA Maryland Health Care System, Baltimore, Maryland, 21201, USA

3 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, 100 North Greene Street Lower Level, Baltimore, Maryland, 21201, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2007, 7:47  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-7-47

Published: 30 May 2007



Inappropriate antibiotic use promotes resistance. Antibiotics are generally not indicated for upper respiratory infections (URIs). Our objectives were to describe patterns of URI treatment and to identify patient and provider factors associated with antibiotic use for URIs.


This study was a cross-sectional analysis of medical and pharmacy claims data from the Pennsylvania Medicaid fee-for-service program database. We identified Pennsylvania Medicaid recipients with a URI office visit over a one-year period. Our outcome variable was antibiotic use within seven days after the URI visit. Study variables included URI type and presence of concurrent acute illnesses and chronic conditions. We considered the associations of each study variable with antibiotic use in a logistic regression model, stratifying by age group and adjusting for confounders.


Among 69,936 recipients with URI, 35,786 (51.2%) received an antibiotic. In all age groups, acute sinusitis, chronic sinusitis, otitis, URI type and season were associated with antibiotic use. Except for the oldest group, physician specialty and streptococcal pharyngitis were associated with antibiotic use. History of chronic conditions was not associated with antibiotic use in any age group. In all age groups, concurrent acute illnesses and history of chronic conditions had only had fair to poor ability to distinguish patients who received an antibiotic from patients who did not.


Antibiotic prevalence for URIs was high, indicating that potentially inappropriate antibiotic utilization is occurring. Our data suggest that demographic and clinical factors are associated with antibiotic use, but additional reasons remain unexplained. Insight regarding reasons for antibiotic prescribing is needed to develop interventions to address the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.