The result: Compared with the placebo group, patients taking the antibiotic were able to benefit from longer gaps between hospitalizations.
"We found that there was a significant delay from the first respiratory-related hospitalization to the next one among those treated with azithromycin," Martinez said. He said the finding also held for re-hospitalizations that were due to any cause, not just respiratory issues.
One expert said the findings warrant further investigation, but pointed out that the history of antibiotic use in people with respiratory disease has had its ups and downs.
"A number of years ago, it was reported that Ketak, an antibiotic in the erythromycin family, was helpful in reducing exacerbations in asthma," said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "[However], there were other problems with this antibiotic, and it was discontinued."
He called the new findings with azithromycin "promising," but added a caveat: "It was recently found that azithromycin is contraindicated in patients with cardiac arrhythmia, which [can] occur in COPD, so these factors must be viewed with caution."
For his part, Martinez said more research will need to be done to confirm the findings, and experts note that findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Find out more about COPD at the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
-- Alan Mozes
SOURCES: Victoria Richards, Ph.D., assistant professor, medical sciences, Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine, Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Conn; Len Horovitz, M.D., pulmonary specialist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; new
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