International Health News

Antibiotics overprescribed for children

DENVER, COLORADO. The problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is becoming increasingly serious and has been clearly linked to the overuse of antibiotics. Over 50 million prescriptions are written every year in the United States for children under 18 years of age. Medical researchers at the Universities of Colorado and Utah now report that a large proportion of these prescriptions may be unnecessary. The researchers evaluated the prescription patterns in 531 visits to doctors' offices by patients younger than 18 years. They found that 44 per cent of patients with common colds, 46 per cent with upper respiratory infection (URI), and 72 per cent with acute bronchitis were prescribed antibiotics even though numerous studies have shown them to be ineffective for these conditions. Extrapolating to all of the United States this means that 6.5 million prescriptions were written unnecessarily for common colds and URIs and 4.7 million for bronchitis. Children aged 5 to 11 years were particularly likely to receive a prescription for antibiotics and pediatricians were much less likely to issue an unnecessary prescription than were other physicians.

In an accompanying editorial medical doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comment on the reasons for the overprescribing. They conclude that many doctors are unaware of the fact that antibiotics do not work for the common cold, URIs, and acute bronchitis. They also suggest that pressure from parents to "do something" is an important factor and that doctors may issue prescriptions to keep their clients satisfied. Finally, pressure to see more and more patients means that the physician can spend less time with each and may decide that writing a prescription for an antibiotic is more efficient than taking the time to explain why one is not needed.
Nyquist, Ann-Christine, et al. Antibiotic prescribing for children with colds, upper respiratory tract infections, and bronchitis. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 279, March 18, 1998, pp. 875-77
Schwartz, Benjamin, et al. Why do physicians prescribe antibiotics for children with upper respiratory tract infections? Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 279, March 18, 1998, pp. 881-82 (editorial)

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