Efforts to get more patients vaccinated against various influenza infections in this particularly active flu season may have a greater payoff than expected. In addition to helping protect against the designated viruses, immunization can help fight the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A team of Canadian researchers reports that since the province of Ontario introduced universal influenza immunization in 2000—offering free vaccines to everyone aged 6 months or older—rates of influenza-associated respiratory antibiotic prescriptions have fallen sharply. Antibiotics are often prescribed for patients with upper respiratory conditions (despite the fact that the cause is usually viral), and overuse is a major culprit in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
As the Ontario flu-shot program raised overall vaccination rates from 18% to 38%, the rates of flu-associated antibiotic prescriptions dropped from 17.9 to 6.4 per 1,000 people. In other provinces, the vaccination rate rose from 13% to 24%, and antibiotic prescriptions only decreased from 8.3 to 8.2 per 1,000 people.
“This 64% relative reduction translates to [about] 144,000 respiratory antibiotic prescriptions ‘prevented’ annually” by the universal influenza immunization program, investigators write (Clin Infect Dis. 2009;49:750-756). According to calculations, influenza- associated antibiotic prescriptions represented 2.7% of the nearly 22.8 million total annual respiratory antibiotic prescriptions in Ontario before 2000 but only 1.1% of the nearly 50.2 million total prescriptions after 2000.