A new study published by the BMJ suggests that the rate of inoculation against pneumonia and peritonsillar abscess is connected inversely to the rate of incident of those diseases. That means that as doctors prescribe less antibiotics to combat these conditions, they increase through the public as a result of the lack of immunization. However, the connection is not tied to a continued effect. In other words, reducing the rate of antibiotic prescriptions substantially does not increase the rate of the conditions substantially. That suggests there is a limit to the effect of reducing vaccinations.
Why The Concern?
Antibiotics are one of the most important tools in modern medicine, but there is a growing fear that they will quickly become inefficient if society doesn’t stop overusing them. The idea is quite simple. You may be familiar with common antibacterial hand sanitizers that claim to reduce bacteria by 99.9 percent. While this sounds good, it actually carries a hidden pitfall. If 99.9 percent are killed due to the antibacterial substance, that means 0.01 percent of the bacteria are resistant to the antibiotic. When the rest are killed by the antibiotic, only the resistant remain to reproduce and regrow.
The result is that doctors need to pay closer attention to the prescriptions they provide. The over-prescription of antibiotics is one of the biggest problems in the medical field. For instance, respiratory tract infections make up about 60 percent of the cases when an antibiotic is prescribed, yet a large portion of those cases could be treated other ways. In the Netherlands, where medical laws are a bit more progressive, antibiotics are only prescribed in about 22 percent of all respiratory tract infection cases. The correlation is that it is possible to combat these diseases while using a much lower rate of immunization than is currently in practice.
A Long-Term Study
The study performed by the BMJ that came to these conclusions was conducted between 2005 and 2014, and it encompassed over 600 general practice physicians in the UK. Data from over 45 million person-years of continued study provided an extensive base of raw information with which to work. The study focused on the rate of respiratory tract infections (RTIs) as well as the antibiotics prescribed and the rate at which they were prescribed.
During the timeframe of the study, it was found that prescriptions for antibiotics to combat RTIs decreased 3.4 percent in men and 3 percent in women. Most other associated conditions decreased in the same period, if only by small amounts, but pneumonia incidents increased nearly half a percent. While this may seem like a small increase, it is surprisingly large compared to the decreased rate of other conditions.
Physicians who often prescribed antibiotics saw less incidents of pneumonia than those physicians who cut back on their prescriptions. Since pneumonia is often community-acquired, this makes perfect sense. It was calculated that a single physician who cut his or her antibiotic prescription rate by 10 percent could expect to increase pneumonia instances by as much as 12.8 percent.
What Do The Results Mean?
Taken at face value, the results of this study show that any physician who decreases the rate of prescribing antibiotics to combat pneumonia and other RTIs will experience an increase in patients presenting with pneumonia. This is a logical conclusion, but why is it important? First, the relation between the factors is important, and second, what it means for the future of medical protocols is important.
It’s important to note that while the rate of pneumonia cases increases with a decrease in antibiotic vaccinations, the rate only increases ever so slightly, seemingly regardless of the reduction of the vaccination rate. Further study is needed to discover the necessary rate of vaccination, but it is clearly higher than it needs to be in order to be maximally effective. That means this study could be used as a basis for a restructuring of many national medical protocols.
As it becomes clear that society doesn’t need to waste as much money on vaccines as we currently do, researchers will eventually find the proper balance. The subtleties involved in creating a comprehensive national vaccination system are varied and nuanced far beyond what most people might assume. The very fact that bacteria is able to adapt and evolve ways to make our medicines obsolete should be enough to convince the world that more needs to be done to ensure our continued survival. We can’t afford to continue using the same tools and the same practices if we hope to combat an ever-changing enemy. Our approach to immunization and disease control needs to be as adaptive and evolutionary as the diseases that we fight. This study by the BMJ is a good start to better understanding what we are up against.