Daily doses of the antibiotic azithromycin may help those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) breathe easier, according to a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The study, which was conducted by researchers nationwide, examined the effects of the drug azithromycin in trial participants over the course of a year. During the study, 570 patients were administered 250 milligrams of the common antibiotic, while 572 patients received a placebo pill. All participants suffered from moderate to severe symptoms from COPD and continued to receive additional treatment.
Researchers report that among selected subjects with COPD, azithromycin taken daily for one year, when added to usual treatment, decreased the frequency of exacerbations and improved quality of life.
Compared to the placebo, the antibiotic reduced flare-ups by about 20 percent. At the one-year mark, those in the placebo group had on average 1.83 flare-ups, while those in the antibiotic group had 1.48.
While patients with COPD who experience flare-ups typically receive a course of antibiotics, the long-term treatment using these drugs has not previously been studied.
“There’s been a sense for years that these flares in at least a group of patients with COPD are related to bacterial infections of the lung,” said Dr. Fernando Martinez, director of Pulmonary Diagnostic Services at the University of Michigan Health System and a researcher in this study, during an interview with ABC 7 Los Angeles. “We were able to demonstrate that you could significantly decrease by more than 20 percent the rate of these flare-ups in at-risk people.”
One concern researchers had with this study was that patients on the daily regiment would develop antibiotic resistance. However, while the drugs did increase the amount of antibiotic-resistant microbes in some patients, there were no infections reported. More studies will be needed to look at the long-term effects of the antibiotic treatment.