I've written before on this forum about the dangers of antibiotics when they are over-prescribed. Antibiotics are so valuable and have saved so many lives--but as they are often prescribed unnecessarily, their use can lead to the rise of resistant organisms. Scientists publishing on the website for BMJ (British Medical Journal) warn of a potential rise in antibiotic resistance in the general population as a result.
While general practitioners have been strongly encouraged for years to reduce antibiotic use to minimize the risk of drug resistance, prescribing antibiotics to children remains a common practice. Author David Mant and colleagues at the University of Oxford report that they've seen a reduction in prescriptions due to the strategy of recommending a 24-48 hour delay before filling antibiotic prescriptions; this has resulted in a 40% fall in consumption in England. But new data suggests that community antibiotic prescriptions are once again rising.
The authors set out to assess the effect of antibiotics on antibiotic resistance in individual children in primary care. They identified 119 children with acute respiratory tract infection, of whom 71 received the antibiotic amoxicillin and 48 received no antibiotic. Background medical information was recorded and throat swabs were taken at the start of the study and again at two and 12 weeks to measure whether resistant bacteria were present.
In children who did not receive an antibiotic, there was no increase in the proportion carrying resistant bacteria in the throat from the initial level at 2 or 12 weeks. However, in children who received an antibiotic, the number carrying resistant bacteria more than doubled at the two week follow-up, but fell back close to the initial level by 12 weeks.
The authors believe these results show that prescribing amoxicillin to a child doubles the risk of finding antibiotic resistant strains in that child later. They warn that although this effect is temporary in the individual child, it may be sufficient to sustain a high level of antibiotic resistance in the population.
In the same issue of BMJ, a study shows that British doctors are still prescribing antibiotics for a large proportion of patients with minor infections, despite British guidelines about their use. I am certain this is happening here in the USA as well.
Antibiotics can be life saving drugs. Let's preserve and protect their ability to work by limiting their use. (Original research article linked to the headline of this post).