Avoiding Antibiotics for Acute Bronchitis

October 28, 2021

Antibiotics only treat certain bacterial infections and don’t work against viruses, which are often the cause of acute bronchitis, colds and flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , at least 28% of antibiotics prescribed each year in doctor’s offices and emergency departments aren’t needed. We encourage providers to talk with our members about taking antibiotics only when necessary.

Why It Matters
Antibiotics can cause side effects  ranging from minor to severe, according to the CDC. These include rash, diarrhea, yeast infections and allergic reactions. Antibiotics also give bacteria a chance to become more resistant to them, making future infections harder to treat. More than 35,000 people die each year in the U.S. because of antibiotic-resistant infections , according to the CDC.

Closing Care Gaps
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) tracks Avoidance of Antibiotic Treatment for Acute Bronchitis/Bronchiolitis (AAB)  as part of monitoring and helping improve quality of care. AAB is a Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS®) measure from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). The measure tracks the percentage of episodes for members ages 3 months and older with a diagnosis of acute bronchitis/bronchiolitis that did not result in the member receiving an antibiotic prescription. A higher ratio indicates appropriate treatment for acute bronchitis/bronchiolitis, meaning antibiotics weren’t prescribed.

Tips to Consider
The CDC suggests alternatives to antibiotics  for acute bronchitis and other conditions, including:

  • Adequate rest and increased fluids
  • Using a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer
  • Inhaling hot shower steam or other sources of hot vapor
  • Throat lozenges for adults and children ages 5 years and older
  • Over-the-counter medications to treat symptoms

Consider providing our members handouts, such as these from the CDC , explaining that viruses, not bacteria, cause colds and flu.

Register today  to join a medical officer from the CDC Office of Antibiotic Stewardship for a webinar on preventing antibiotics overuse. The free webinar is Nov. 16, 2021, from 12:15 to 1 p.m., CT, and will provide information on:

  • Avoiding antibiotic treatment for acute bronchitis and other viral illnesses
  • How antibiotics can do more harm than good when used and not needed
  • Alternatives to antibiotics

The above material is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician or other health care provider. Physicians and other health care providers are encouraged to use their own medical judgment based upon all available information and the condition of the patient in determining the appropriate course of treatment. References to other third party sources or organizations are not a representation, warranty or endorsement of such organization. Any questions regarding those organizations should be addressed to them directly.

The fact that a service or treatment is described in this material is not a guarantee that the service or treatment is a covered benefit and members should refer to their certificate of coverage for more details, including benefits, limitations and exclusions. Regardless of benefits, the final decision about any service or treatment is between the member and their health care provider.

HEDIS is a registered trademark of NCQA. Use of this resource is subject to NCQA’s copyright, found here.