Doctors are being urged to cautiously prescribe antibiotics for children because the drugs are unnecessary for most upper respiratory illnesses, say government health authorities who released new guidelines on using the medicines.
Pressure to curtail antibiotic use for all age groups has mounted in recent years as drug resistance grows and fewer medicines can combat emerging “superbugs.” The new guidelines, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in cooperation with the American Academy of Pediatrics, call on doctors to prescribe an antibiotic only for laboratory-confirmed bacterial infections.
Doctors say the over-prescription of antibiotics has numerous causes: Some physicians prescribe them as a way to hurry patients out of their offices, while others write scripts under pressure from parents.
“Taking antibiotics can sometimes do more harm than good, but there are a lot of doctors who think it's easier to prescribe an antibiotic and pacify Mom than to do the right thing,” said Dr. Neil Soskel, a specialist in family medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y.
“Half of all sore throats and earaches are probably viral and not bacterial,” said Soskel, referring to two common childhood afflictions for which antibiotics are routinely prescribed. “But it takes a lot more guts not to prescribe an antibiotic than to go ahead and do it.”
The common cold and flu are two other conditions for which pediatric prescriptions have been written, but the drugs could portend more harm than benefit, experts said this week.
“Many people have the misconception that since antibiotics are commonly used that they are harmless,” Dr. Lauri Hicks, a co-author of the new CDC report, said Tuesday.
As many as 10 million children nationwide risk side effects from antibiotic prescriptions that are not likely to help upper respiratory conditions, according to data in the report.
A flurry of scientific papers in recent years has shown a high degree of bacterial resistance to the drug amoxicillin, which has been rendered useless in vast populations of children worldwide because of its overuse. Amoxicillin, an antibiotic in the penicillin family, is commonly prescribed to children.