Bronchitis affects about five percent of Americans every year.(1) According to a recent study, about three-quarters of those annual sufferers are given antibiotics to stem the inflammation and contain its contagious nature.
But the more alarming finding of the research is that these antibiotics are essentially useless, acting to suppress bronchitis in only a very small number of studied cases. Typically, all the antibiotics do is bring with them a rash of side effects that can, in some cases, work to worsen the bronchitis. It all adds up to bronchitis, yes, being still very contagious when someone is on antibiotics.
Low Mortality Rate
For the period of 2006-2007, just under 12 million cases of bronchitis were diagnosed in the United States.(1) Out of that number, 667 proved fatal. This translates to a rate of 0.2 per 100,000 people, a very low relative tally. Still, in nursing homes, bronchitis and emphysema affected 13% of residents over the same period.
Even though most people stricken with bronchitis can improve without antibiotics, the patient expectation when visiting a doctor is to walk out with a prescription. Doctors describe how difficult it is to convince a visitor who is suffering from such symptoms to leave without the promise of pharmaceuticals.
Wide Range of Products
Among the antibiotics given for bronchitis are Amoxil, Biaxin, and Bactrim.(3) Side effects of these medications range from diarrhea and sore mouth to skin rashes and nausea. It makes no difference whether the taker of these medicines is a smoker or non-smoker. Research has found that the general effect is essentially the same within both groups of patients.
One of the strands of antibiotic, erythromycin—represented by the brand names Eryc, EryPed, Ery-Tab—can have an even more damaging side effect. A recent study confirmed that those taking this antibiotic and medications inhibiting liver enzymes can risk cardiac arrest.
(1) ABC News – “Antibiotics Useless for Bronchitis”, November 16, 2006, Retrieved June 26, 2011 from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=2656438&page=1
(2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Fast Stats: COPD, Retrieved June 26, 2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/copd.htm
(3) WebMD – Antibiotics for Acute Bronchitis, Retrieved June 26, 2011 from http://www.webmd.com/lung/antibiotics-for-acute-bronchitis