Antibiotics could curb COPD attacks

February 12, 2012 10:00:00 PM PST
COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States.The illness is also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, and 12 million Americans have been diagnosed.

Millions more could have it and not realize it. Now, some researchers say an antibiotic a day could keep attacks at bay.

For 61-year-old Doug Viland, nothing beats an afternoon with his granddaughter Arianna. Keeping up with a non-stop nine-year-old isn't easy, though. Especially when you can't catch your breath.

"I'd take two or three steps and then I'd have to stop. I'd have episodes like that all the time," Doug Viland, a COPD patient told Ivanhoe.

Doug has been struggling for years with COPD a serious lung disease that clogs his airways, causing a chronic cough and a lot of phlegm. Until recently, he would often suffer a sudden, severe onset of symptoms, called a flare up.

"There's been a sense for years that these flares in at least a group of patients with COPD are related to bacterial infection of the lung," Fernando Martinez, M.D., M.S., Director of pulmonary diagnostic services at the University of Michigan Health System told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Fernando Martinez is among a group of nationwide researchers studying COPD and the effects of a common antibiotic on the condition. For one year, 570 trial participants took daily doses of the drug azithromycin in addition to their other COPD treatments. Another group took a placebo.

"We were able to demonstrate that you were able to significantly decrease, by more than 20 percent the rate of flare ups in at-risk people," Dr. Martinez explained.

The daily regimen benefits those with moderate to severe symptoms. For Doug, it made all the difference.

"Before, I could only walk about half a block. Now I can walk up to five miles," Doug concluded.

And keep up with his granddaughter!

Researchers say they were concerned that patients on the daily regimen would develop antibiotic resistance. While the drugs did increase the amount of antibiotic resistant microbes in some patients, there were no infections reported. Still, more studies will be needed to look at the long-term effects of the antibiotic treatment.


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