Background: When it comes to treating community acquired respiratory tract infections, macrolide antibiotics (azithromycin, clarithromycin, and erythromycin) are a common choice of agent. In 2010, 57.4 million macrolide prescriptions were written in the U.S. with azithromycin being the most commonly prescribed individual antibiotic agent overall with ~51.5 million prescriptions (Hicks 2013).
With more and more patients being prescribed macrolide antibiotics, an increasing amount of research has been put forth dealing with the safety concerns regarding these medications; specifically the thought that azithromycin use can lead to fatal ventricular arrhythmias. In addition to case reports a 2012 observational study published in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted an association between azithromycin use and higher rate of both cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality (Ray 2012). This prompted the US Food and Drug Administration to issue warnings about the use of azithromycin and potential QT-interval prolongation and fatal ventricular dysrhythmias.
However, recent studies suggest that these concerns and warnings may not be accurate. A retrospective cohort study comparing older patients hospitalized with pneumonia that were treated with azithromycin to those who received other guideline appropriate antibiotics actually showed a lower risk of 90-day mortality in the azithromycin group. Further, there was no significant difference between the 2 groups in regards to risk of arrhythmia, heart failure or any cardiac event. (Mortensen 2014). Read more →