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Limit antibiotic use, doctors urged

New medical guidelines urge doctors to stop routinely prescribing antibiotics for colds, sore throats, sinus problems and bronchitis since the drugs do no good for most respiratory illnesses.

The guidelines for adults, announced Monday by a panel convened by the federal government, stem from a growing concern about the overuse of antibiotics. Experts say that over-prescribing is fueling an epidemic of drug-resistant "superbugs."

"These guidelines should allow physicians to target their antibiotics to where they're likely to do good and avoid them where they're likely to do harm," said Dr. Richard Besser of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC, physicians and disease experts compiled the recommendations.

Because antibiotics target bacteria, not viruses, they do not help with colds and other viral respiratory illnesses and can cause unwanted side effects, including rashes and stomach problems.

Otherwise healthy adult patients would be better off simply gargling with saltwater and using over-the-counter products to relieve their cold symptoms, the guidelines suggest.

Dr. Ralph Gonzales, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center who chaired the panel, said the guidelines for otherwise healthy adults are broken into four general rules:

Antibiotics should not be prescribed for the common cold.

Antibiotics should not be prescribed for bronchitis, although doctors must be careful to rule out pneumonia.

For sinus infections, antibiotics should be limited to patients whose symptoms of facial tenderness or pain and nasal discharge aren't getting better after a week.

Antibiotics should not be prescribed for a sore throat unless a throat culture confirms a bacterial strep infection or if the patient exhibits symptoms including a history of fever, white patches on the tonsils, some swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck and an absence of cough.