Antibiotics can be lifesavers. And they can be life-threatening.
The dangers of overprescribing and overusing antibiotics are well known (see our blog, “CDC Report on Antibiotic Resistance Sounds Ominous Note.”), and now there are disturbing new signals that they can pose a dire threat to children.
According to a report in Pediatrics, most Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections in children might be linked to antibiotics prescribed by doctors.
Considered a “super bug” — that is, an unusually strong and difficult to eradicate microbe — C. diff is a bacteria that causes intestinal infections and severe diarrhea. It’s painful and can be deadly. More than 17,000 children in the U.S. contract C. diff infections each year.
The Pediatrics study showed that antibiotic use was associated with nearly 3 in 4 C. diff infections, even though the drugs weren't taken because of C. diff.
As summarized on AboutLawsuits.com, researchers analyzed data from C. diff cases of nearly 1,000 children between 1 and 17 years old. They were from 10 different U.S. regions.
More than 7 in 10 cases involved bouts of diarrhea. In more than 7 in 10 of those cases, doctors had prescribed antibiotics to treat other conditions within the previous 12 weeks. The subjects had not tested positive for C. diff within the previous eight weeks. No deaths were linked to the C. diff cases.
The highest incidence of infection was found among white children between 1 and 2 years old.
The study was not conclusive about the cause of the infections, but it did demonstrate a strong association between the C. diff and antibiotic use.
Most of the children in this study had taken antibiotics for ear, sinus or upper respiratory infections. Half of all antibiotics prescribed to children for respiratory infections are not required, noted AboutLawsuits.com. Because antibiotics also destroy beneficial bacterial that can protect against infections, taking them unadvisedly — for a viral infection (the drugs address only bacteria, not viruses) or for a problem that, given time, rest and other less aggressive measures, will resolve on its own — invites a larger threat.
The story refers to a study last year that found that doctors prescribed antibiotics in 6 of 10 cases of sore throat; only 1 in 10 cases can be treated effectively with them.
So although parents are desperate to address their child’s pain, discomfort and fever, they shouldn’t routinely ask for an antibiotic prescription for most common childhood infections. And the new study shows that the danger might be even worse than we thought.