For more information of confidential assistance
Call 800-306-3180

New Study Raises Concern over Antibiotic Infections in Kids

Antibiotic InfectionsAntibiotics are often the go-to remedy parents seek and doctors prescribe when children fall ill. However, an increase in antibiotic infections has raised concern that these drugs are being over-prescribed at alarmingly high rates. Now, researchers have tied antibiotic use to a dangerous and sometimes deadly infection known as Clostridium difficile or C. diff in young children.

Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed C. diff cases involving children between the ages of one and 17. They found that 73% of children diagnosed with C. diff had been taking antibiotics within the 12 weeks prior to the diagnosis. Most of those prescriptions were given in outpatient settings, indicating that the majority of children were not picking up the infection in hospital facilities. That data contrasts with the fact that two-thirds of adults diagnosed with C. diff contract the infection during a hospital stay.

Children between the ages of one and two years had the highest incidence of C. diff infections at 66%.

Even more alarming is the fact that as many as 50% of antibiotics are prescribed for respiratory infections, which do not require antibiotic treatment to resolve. In response to the results, CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., stated on the agency website, “Improved antibiotic prescribing is critical to protect the health of our nation’s children.”

About C. diff infections

C. diff is a bacterial infection that is characterized by diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Severe cases of C. diff may also produce fever, bloody stools, dehydration and nausea. According to the CDC, there are more than 250,000 cases of C. diff annually, which has elevated the infection to “urgent” status. The infection results in more than 14,000 deaths every year.

Numerous complications can arise from a C. diff infection, including kidney failure and bowel perforation. Even dehydration can become a life-threatening issue for patients with C. diff if healthcare providers are not able to replace body fluids quickly enough. Even infections that begin mildly can quickly progress to a more severe problem if treatment is not administered promptly.

Oral antibiotics may be the first course of action for a relatively mild C. diff infection. However, more serious cases may require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics. If the infection leads to inflammation and damage of the colon, surgery may be needed to remove the damaged portion. New C. diff treatments are also currently under study, although FDA approval has yet to be granted.

Antibiotic overuse dangers

Although researchers did not give a definitive causal link between antibiotic use and C. diff, the association between the two has long been suspected. Antibiotics wipe out all bacteria in the body, both “good” and “bad.” By eliminating good bacteria, the body is left unable to fight off some types of infection, like C. diff. In addition, antibiotic use creates drug resistance for some types of bacteria, making infections that much more difficult to treat.

Despite concerns about antibiotic infection risks, studies indicate antibiotic overuse is still a problem. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found last October that doctors were prescribing antibiotics for illnesses like bronchitis and sore throats much more frequently than necessary. Although only about 10% of all sore throats result in a positive strep diagnosis, an infection that can and should be treated with antibiotics, doctors were prescribing the drugs to around 60% of their patients complaining about this symptom.

Part of the reason behind the prescriptions could be patients demanding medications when they come to their physicians. Another factor could be that prescription writing has simply become a habit for doctors. The CDC has launched efforts in recent years to lower the number of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions for children. While their efforts have been successful to some extent, this new study provides more troubling information about the dangers associated with over-prescribing antibiotics to younger children.