Are kids still getting too many antibiotics?
For the past several years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been warning physicians and the public alike about the dangers of overprescribing antibiotic medications—dangers that include the rise of “superbugs” due to built-up antibiotic resistance.
However, the results of a new study published this week in the journal Pediatrics show children may be getting prescribed antibiotics twice as often as necessary.
The researchers at Seattle Children’s Hospital looked back at studies of antibiotic use for children with common respiratory infections—including ear and throat infections—between 2001 and 2011. According to their finding, about 57 percent were prescribed antibiotics. However, only 27.4 percent were found to have a bacterial infection for which antibiotics are the correct treatment. The remaining 29.6 percent were found to have other infections, including viral, against which antibiotics are ineffective.
The researchers estimate this amounts to more than 11 million unnecessary pediatric antibiotic prescriptions every year. Though new guidelines have been set by the American Academy of Pediatrics for the instruction of antibiotics to avoid over prescription, the researchers say they found no real change in prescribing rates over the past 10 years.
“Whatever we are doing now, it isn’t working,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Matthew Kronman, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, told ABC News.
“When a sick child comes into the office with a high fever, earache or sore throat, it’s hard to differentiate between viral and bacterial causes for the infection,” she says. “All symptoms should be evaluated carefully and, whenever possible, we should wait and monitor to see if they ease. Most often, the child improves within two days without the need for antibiotics.”
Dr. Ghaey says viral infections most often ease within 48 hours. However, that may be easier said than done, when faced with a sick child.
“When a child is in your office and a parent has taken time off work to come in, it’s difficult to tell them they need to wait and see,” Dr. Ghaey says. “No parent wants their child to be sick and feel like they’re not doing all they can to help. So they may push for an antibiotic, but that’s not always the best answer.”
The concern with over prescribing antibiotics, especially at younger ages, is that the body may build a tolerance, which has been speculated as the reason for the recent rise of drug-resistant superbugs. Antibiotics should only be used when deemed absolutely appropriate, Dr. Ghaey says.
She says parents should feel empowered to question their child’s physician about prescriptions.
“You are your child’s best advocate, and a physician will always take the time to explain all medical treatments and prescriptions,” she says.
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