Children Being Prescribed Antibiotics Too Frequently

November 12, 2012

Children Being Prescribed Antibiotics Too Frequently

A recent study in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, produced by the CDC warns that antibiotics are being prescribed for colds and viral sore throats in addition to other illnesses that either do not need antibiotics or will not respond to them. It was found that the number of children, in this case children were classified as 14 and younger, who had been prescribed antibiotics was too high, although numbers had fallen from earlier levels.

The study examined the rate of antibiotic prescriptions given to children from 2007 to 2008. The result of this was then compared with earlier prescribing habits in 1993 to 1994 and any differences were noted.

The research identified five common areas for investigation, all were upper respiratory infections. They were common colds, sore throats, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections. It is not uncommon for these infections to be caused by a virus. However antibiotics can be helpful when treating bacteria, not viral infections.

It is important to be aware that overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. Although they are a very useful and effective form of treatment another side effect of overuse can be that infections become more resilient and therefore harder to deal with.

The good news was that the number of times antibiotics were prescribed in 2007 to 2008 was 24% lower than in 1993 to 1994. That equates to 240 cases in every 1,000 who visited the doctor’s surgery. This drop is caused by fewer doctors prescribing antibiotics when the patients had sore throats or common colds. However the study showed that there was little change in the prescribing habits when dealing with bronchitis (inflamed airways), ear infections (otitis media) or sinus infections (sinusitis). This is at a time when many in the medical profession accept that children with ear infections do not necessarily need antibiotics.

Are Doctors Expected to Prescribe Antibiotics?

Study researcher Tarayn Fairlie, MD, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta agrees that doctors often feel pressure to prescribe antibiotics. The reason for this because they think the parent expects a prescription. She goes on to explain that, “This practice may seem harmless, but it is not”. She then justifies this view by saying “When a child receives an unnecessary antibiotic it puts them and the people around them at risk for infection with a resistant bacteria, which are often serious and difficult to treat, and may even result in death, Antibiotics are also not always harmless medications; they can be associated with serious side effects. These can include allergic reactions and/or diarrhea”.

Yet many doctors still prescribe too many antibiotics. Any doctor knows how difficult it is to send parents of an ill child home without a prescription, but parents should be questioning the need for antibiotics. Ask about the best form of treatment for the child, not what medication is best. Parents’ anxiety must be addressed too, and yet most people are aware that there is no cure for a cold. It’s just about keeping the patient comfortable and rested and then the body recovers. So why are doctors happy to prescribe antibiotics and why are parents happy to give their children something which probably won’t work and may be harmful? The problem is also added to because of new laws which limit the amount of cold and flu remedies which can be used with younger children.

Pediatrician Roberto Posada, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City has a view. He says “Some pediatricians think it’s easier to prescribe something and move on. And on the parent’s side, you expect to come out with a prescription to make your child better”. But he also points out that, “Parents may miss the big picture. They say ‘it’s just my kid, so how will that affect everyone else.’ But if everyone thinks this way, we will have a problem.”

He concludes by saying, “We are over prescribing antibiotics as pediatricians, which is a problem because of drug resistance, and will limit our options for treating patients with serious infections later on,”


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