For the study, the researchers recruited 3,402 adults with a new or worsening cough or a possible lower respiratory tract infection, from 14 primary care research networks in 13 European countries.
Overall, antibiotics were prescribed for 53% of patients, but prescribing ranged from 21% to nearly 90% across the networks.
Patients in Slovakia, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Wales were at least twice as likely to be prescribed antibiotics than the overall average, while patients in Norway, Belgium and Sweden were at least four times less likely to be prescribed antibiotics than the overall average.
Major differences in the decision whether or not to prescribe an antibiotic remained, even after adjusted for other risk factors.
Amoxicillin was the most commonly prescribed antibiotic, but this ranged from 3% of prescriptions in Norway to 83% in England.
Study researcher Professor Herman Goossens, from the University of Antwerp, said: ‘This threat of antibiotic resistance is likely to be more acute as GPs face increasing demands to prescribe antibiotics for acute cough amidst the current global H1N1 flu pandemic.
‘This new evidence should prove instrumental in containing antibiotic prescribing.’
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