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To describe the frequency of antibiotic prescriptions in patients with known viral respiratory infections (VRIs) diagnosed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in 3 emergency departments (EDs) and to identify patient characteristics that influence the prescribing of antibiotics by ED physicians despite PCR confirmation of viral cause.
Retrospective, observational analysis of patients with PCR-diagnosed VRI discharged from 3 acute-care hospital EDs within 1 health system.
In total, 323 patients were discharged from the ED with a VRI diagnosis, of whom 68 were prescribed antibiotics (21.1%). These patients were older (median, 59.5 vs 43 years; P = .04), experienced symptoms longer (median, 4 vs 2 days; P = .002), were more likely to have received antibiotics in the preceding 7 days (27.9% vs 9.8%; P < .001), and had higher proportions of abnormal chest X-rays (64.5% vs 28.4%; P < .001). Patients were more likely to receive antibiotics for a diagnosis of pneumonia (39.7% vs 1.6%; P < .001) or otitis media (7.4% vs 0.4%; P = .002), and were less likely with diagnosis of upper respiratory infection (2.9% vs 13.7%; P = .02) or influenza (20.6% vs 44.3%; P < .001).
Despite a diagnosis of VRI, one-fifth of ED patients were prescribed antibiotics. Patient characteristics including age, duration of symptoms, abnormal chest X-rays, and specific diagnosis may increase provider concern for concurrent bacterial infections. Opportunities exist for antimicrobial stewardship strategies to incorporate rapid diagnostics in promoting judicious antibiotic usage in the ED.
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