C-reactive protein testing does not decrease antibiotic use for acute cough illness when compared to a clinical algorithm

Ralph Gonzales, Eva M. Aagaard, Carlos A. Camargo, O. John Ma, Mark Plautz, Judith H. Maselli, Charles E. McCulloch, Sara K. Levin, Joshua P. Metlay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background: Antibiotics are commonly overused in adults seeking emergency department (ED) care for acute cough illness. Objective: To evaluate the effect of a point-of-care C-reactive protein (CRP) blood test on antibiotic treatment of acute cough illness in adults. Methods: A randomized controlled trial was conducted in a single urban ED in the United States. The participants were adults (age < 18 years) seeking care for acute cough illness (≤ 21 days duration); 139 participants were enrolled, and 131 completed the ED visit. Between November 2005 and March 2006, study participants had attached to their medical charts a clinical algorithm with recommendations for chest X-ray study or antibiotic treatment. For CRP-tested patients, recommendations were based on the same algorithm plus the CRP level. Results: There was no difference in antibiotic use between CRP-tested and control participants (37% [95% confidence interval (CI) 2945%] vs. 31% [95% CI 2339%], respectively; p = 0.46) or chest X-ray use (52% [95% CI 4361%] vs. 48% [95% CI 3957%], respectively; p = 0.67). Among CRP-tested participants, those with normal CRP levels received antibiotics much less frequently than those with indeterminate CRP levels (20% [95% CI 733%] vs. 50% [95% CI 3268%], respectively; p = 0.01). Conclusions: Point-of-care CRP testing does not seem to provide any additional value beyond a point-of-care clinical decision support for reducing antibiotic use in adults with acute cough illness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • C-reactive protein
  • acute respiratory tract infections
  • antimicrobial agents
  • quality improvement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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