Urgent care centers are the biggest offenders when it comes to giving people antibiotics they don’t need, researchers reported Monday.
Nearly half of people who go to walk-in clinics with symptoms of a cold or flu walk out with an antibiotic, according to a study released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
That's despite clear guidelines saying that antibiotics are useless for treating viruses such as colds or influenza.
Overuse of antibiotics is driving a rise in so-called superbugs — antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause hard-to-treat infections.
The researchers looked at visits for respiratory diagnoses where antibiotics are unnecessary, like a cold, flu or bronchitis.
They found that for 46 percent of patients, urgent care centers prescribed antibiotics for these conditions, compared with 24 percent at emergency rooms and 17 percent at medical offices.
The findings are especially significant because the number of urgent care centers has surged in recent years, reaching 8,125 centers in 2017, up 12 percent from 2016, according to the Urgent Care Association.
“This study was an effort on our part to understand the full landscape of overuse of antibiotics,” said the CDC's Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra, who worked on the study. “Every setting that prescribes antibiotics needs to identify best practices for antibiotic stewardship."
Their study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Internal Medicine, compared stand-alone urgent care centers with retail clinics, which are typically found in pharmacies and grocery stores.
Only 14 percent of patients coming to retail clinics for colds, flu or bronchitis got antibiotics, the study found.