Kids Are Being Given Too Many Antibiotics They Don’t Need
A worldwide survey reveals nearly one-third of the antibiotics prescribed to hospitalized children are for preventive purposes, rather than as a treatment for a disease, contributing to the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and drug-resistant infections.
The survey, published in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, showed a large number of the preventive prescriptions to be broad-spectrum antibiotics, a combination of antibiotics, or for antibiotics taken for prolonged periods of time.
“This pattern and high rate of prophylactic (preventive) prescribing indicates a clear overuse of antibiotics,” says study author Markus Hufnagel, of the University of Freiburg, Germany. “Hopefully, our study results will help to raise awareness among health professionals about appropriate prescribing of antibiotics in children.”
The survey was conducted across 226 pediatric hospitals in 41 countries to document the antibiotic prescriptions for almost 7,000 children who were inpatients during a single day in 2012. On that day, slightly less than one-third of the 12,000 total antibiotic prescriptions were preventive. Because some children were prescribed more than one antibiotic, 32% of kids received preventative antibiotic doses.
Roughly half of all preventive antibiotic prescriptions were for broad-spectrum antibiotics (antibiotics that work on a wide range of disease-causing bacteria). In more than a third of the cases, two or more systemic antibiotics were prescribed to a child at the same time.
These patterns observed are in direct contrast to international guidelines on the use of preventative antibiotics, which recommend the use of narrow-spectrum antibiotics, and for shorter spans of time in order to limit the spread of antibiotic resistance.
Too many antibiotics can also kill the very important gut microbiome (good bacteria) in the body, leaving patients vulnerable to other health risks. While in adults such damage can be minimal, in kids, especially children under two, it can result in long-term consequences.
The authors of the study call for doctors to reduce prescriptions of broad-spectrum and combination of antibiotics where possible, and to limit antibiotic prescriptions that are for preventive rather than treatment purposes.