Even Conservative Use of Antibiotics Has Negative Implications on Children’s Health: Study

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Nov 14, 2019

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New research has concluded even low or unnecessary use of antibiotics is harmful to children. It could either put them at the risk of being unresponsive to a subsequent treatment; or can lead to them needing further treatments, in some cases even the need to be admitted in hospitals. The above was found by clinical lecturer at the University of Oxford and general practitioner, Oliver van Hecke, and his team’s research that sought out to study the dangers of overprescribing antibiotics in kids — particularly for common conditions such as coughs, sore throats, and earaches.

Of the 300 million patient consultations GPs in the U.K. carry out every year, at least a quarter of them are related to children, van Hecke writes for The Conversation. Although common colds and coughs are likely to occur frequently in children, they get grouped as “acute respiratory tract infections,” by doctors and nurses due to which, in 30% of these cases, antibiotics are prescribed.

“That’s an estimated 13 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions,” van Hecke wrote. “This is not only wasteful but may also have unintended consequences for the child’s health.”

van Hecke and researchers from Cardiff and Southampton universities reached the above conclusion after they studied 250,000 preschool children in the U.K. who had taken two or more antibiotic courses for acute respiratory tract infections in the previous year. They found that these children had a 30% greater chance of not responding to the subsequent treatment compared to those children who didn’t take any antibiotics. Children with long-term health conditions that make them prone to infections were excluded from the study.

Contrary to popular belief that resistance to antibiotics builds only if they are taken too frequently – antibiotics drive bacteria to change and therefore can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance – van Hecke’s research found that even low use of antibiotics has implications on health, especially in children. “And when you consider that many preschool children often have multiple illness episodes, potentially leading to several antibiotic courses, it makes the findings even more pertinent,” van Hecke writes.


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Although researchers can’t pinpoint the exact reason why even low use of antibiotics is harmful among children, they suspect that it may be due to the disruption of their gut microbiome that is still fragile. “And it may also be related to parental expectations of further treatment and the fact that they are perhaps unaware of the limited role of antibiotics in most childhood infections. Indeed, it is normal for children’s coughs to last longer than you might think — indeed, half go on for ten days and one in ten go on for 25 days,” Hecke writes for The Conversation.

In addition to this, the study also found that children who were prescribed more antibiotics were also more likely to revisit a doctor within a 14-day time period.

“Of course, GPs want to provide the best care possible for their patients. But they grapple with the decision to prescribe an antibiotic — thereby lowering an individual patient’s risk of coming to harm — versus not prescribing it, and lowering community risk,” Hecke wrote. Therefore, adding that even though it’ll be better if GPs prescribe fewer medicines, the onus doesn’t lie on them alone. Parents need to be aware of their usage and its implications on their children’s health too.

Urging them to listen to their GPs when they don’t prescribe antibiotics, Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman at Royal College of GPs, told Huffington Post, “GPs are acutely aware of the potential dangers of prescribing antibiotics when they are not absolutely necessary – and how this can contribute to growing resistance to these important drugs, which is a global concern.”

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Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.

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