Bacterial co-infection is infrequently observed with SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 infection outside of critical care, however, antibiotics are commonly prescribed.


To examine factors associated with antibiotic prescribing for suspected respiratory tract infection (RTI) and evaluate the nature and dynamics of prescribing in hospitalized patients with suspected and proven COVID-19 infection.


An antibiotic point prevalence survey in hospitalized adult patients was conducted in designated COVID-19 clinical areas (including critical care) in 15 Scottish hospitals. Antibiotics prescribed for RTI and factors associated with prescribing were investigated.


Of 820 surveyed patients, 272 (prevalence 33.3%) received antibiotics for suspected RTI on the survey day and 58.8% were SARS-CoV-2 positive. Antibiotics were empirical in 91.9% and amoxicillin (24.6%), doxycycline (20.5%) and co-amoxiclav (15%) were most frequently prescribed. Oral antibiotics were prescribed in 54.5% and duration was recorded in 76.7% on wards for a median of 5 days. IV to oral switch occurred after a median of 2 days. Prescribing for RTI was independently and positively associated with COPD/chronic lung disease, purulent/bloody sputum, abnormal chest X-ray, and CRP ≥ 100 mg/L. Probable and definite hospital-acquired COVID-19 and diabetes were associated with a lower odds of receiving an antibiotic for RTI.


Antibiotic prescribing for suspected RTI was commonly observed and predominantly empirical in suspected or proven COVID-19. Initiatives to reinforce stewardship principles including clinical review, effective use of microbiological diagnostics and better understanding of the role of biomarkers are central to further limit unnecessary antibiotic therapy in COVID-19.


© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Cite as

Seaton, R., Cooper, L., Gibbons, C., Malcolm, W., Choo-Kang, B., Griffith, D., Dundas, S., Brittain, S., Hamilton, K., Jeffreys, D., McKinney, R., Guthrie, D. & Sneddon, J. 2021, 'Antibiotic prescribing for respiratory tract infection in patients with suspected and proven COVID-19: results from an antibiotic point prevalence survey in Scottish hospitals', JAC-Antimicrobial Resistance, 3(2), article no: dlab078. https://doi.org/10.1093/jacamr/dlab078

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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