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Open Access Research article

Access to a polymerase chain reaction assay method targeting 13 respiratory viruses can reduce antibiotics: a randomised, controlled trial

Robin Brittain-Long1*, Johan Westin2, Sigvard Olofsson2, Magnus Lindh2 and Lars-Magnus Andersson12

Author affiliations

1 Department of Infectious Diseases, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Smörslottsgatan 1, SE-416 85, Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Department of Clinical Virology, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Guldhedsgatan 10 B, SE-413 46, Gothenburg, Sweden

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Citation and License

BMC Medicine 2011, 9:44  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-44

Published: 26 April 2011

Abstract

Background

Viral respiratory infections are common worldwide and range from completely benign disease to life-threatening illness. Symptoms can be unspecific, and an etiologic diagnosis is rarely established because of a lack of suitable diagnostic tools. Improper use of antibiotics is common in this setting, which is detrimental in light of the development of bacterial resistance. It has been suggested that the use of diagnostic tests could reduce antibiotic prescription rates. The objective of this study was to evaluate whether access to a multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay panel for etiologic diagnosis of acute respiratory tract infections (ARTIs) would have an impact on antibiotic prescription rate in primary care clinical settings.

Methods

Adult patients with symptoms of ARTI were prospectively included. Nasopharyngeal and throat swabs were analysed by using a multiplex real-time PCR method targeting thirteen viruses and two bacteria. Patients were recruited at 12 outpatient units from October 2006 through April 2009, and samples were collected on the day of inclusion (initial visit) and after 10 days (follow-up visit). Patients were randomised in an open-label treatment protocol to receive a rapid or delayed result (on the following day or after eight to twelve days). The primary outcome measure was the antibiotic prescription rate at the initial visit, and the secondary outcome was the total antibiotic prescription rate during the study period.

Results

A total sample of 447 patients was randomised. Forty-one were excluded, leaving 406 patients for analysis. In the group of patients randomised for a rapid result, 4.5% (9 of 202) of patients received antibiotics at the initial visit, compared to 12.3% (25 of 204) (P = 0.005) of patients in the delayed result group. At follow-up, there was no significant difference between the groups: 13.9% (28 of 202) in the rapid result group and 17.2% (35 of 204) in the delayed result group (P = 0.359), respectively.

Conclusions

Access to a rapid method for etiologic diagnosis of ARTIs may reduce antibiotic prescription rates at the initial visit in an outpatient setting. To sustain this effect, however, it seems necessary to better define how to follow and manage the patient according to the result of the test, which warrants further investigation.

Trial registration

ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT01133782.