Almost half of women with uncomplicated urinary tract infections received incorrect antibiotics and received medications longer than they needed, according to a study published this month.

Published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology on Feb. 24, the study found that nearly half of 670,400 patients diagnosed with UTI got the wrong antibiotics.

In addition, more than three-quarters of these women took antibiotic medications longer than was medically necessary. Long duration of treatment-above the clinical guidelines-was more frequent in rural than urban areas.

"Inappropriate antibiotic prescriptions for uncomplicated urinary tract infections are prevalent and come with serious patient- and society-level consequences," said lead author Anne Mobley Butler, an assistant professor of medicine and surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, in a statement. 

Researchers analyzed insurance claims for women between the ages of 18 and 44 who were diagnosed with a common form of urinary tract infection between April 2011 and June 2015.

Antibiotic medications given to these women have been compared to existing clinical guidelines.

Researchers observed that some 47% of prescriptions were written for antibiotics that did not comply with medical guidelines.

Women living in rural areas were more likely to be advised to take the antibiotic for "inappropriately long duration of therapy than urban patients," the study found, while 76% of all women in the study were on antibiotics for too long.

It is plausible, according to the study, that rural physicians may not be as aware of current antibiotic care protocols, or may have given their patients more antibiotics because of the distance they need to drive to and from the clinic if symptoms continue.

Further study is required, however, to determine the reasons for higher excessive prescribing in rural settings.

"Our study findings underscore the need for antimicrobial stewardship interventions to improve outpatient antibiotic prescribing, particularly in rural settings," the research team concluded. 

According to the World Health Organization, at least 50% of adult women report having at least one urinary tract infection in their lifetime, making this painful condition one of the most widespread and collectively costly forms of infection in the world.

A WHO report in 2011 found that UTIs led to more than 8 million office visits and more than 1 million hospitalizations, at a combined annual expense of more than $1 billion.