Antibiotics Prescribed Twice as Often as Needed, Says Study

Antibiotic TabletsDespite the known dangers associated with antibiotic overuse and misuse, doctors still prescribe antibiotics to children twice as often as needed for respiratory infections, says a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

For the study, researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital performed a meta-analysis of studies published between 2000 and 2011 to determine the rate of acute respiratory tract infections caused by bacteria. Viruses also cause many respiratory infections. Antibiotics cannot treat viral infections.

The researchers also performed a retrospective cohort analysis of children age under the age of 18 using date from ambulatory clinics sampled by the 2000-2010 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) to determine the rate of antibiotic prescribing.

According to the study, bacterial infections account for 27.4% of respiratory infections among children. However, doctors prescribed antibiotics for 56.95% of respiratory infections.

In other words, doctors prescribe antibiotics over twice as often as necessary for respiratory infections among children.

Comments study author Dr. Matthew Kronman, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Seattle Children’s Hospital, “I think it’s well-known that we prescribers overprescribe antibiotics, and our intent was to put a number on how often we’re doing that.”


Additionally, the researchers also found a lack of change in antibiotic prescribing habits over the past ten years, “But as we found out, there’s really been no change in this [situation] over the last decade. And we don’t have easily available tools in the real-world setting to discriminate between infections caused by bacteria or viruses.”

Adds Dr. Kronman, “Whatever we are doing now, it isn’t working. We need to come up with new strategies to understand why this gap exists.”

One major concern with the overuse and misuse of antibiotics is the development of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics no longer work against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, making infections more difficult to treat. Explained Dr. Steve Solomon, director of the Office of Antimicrobial Resistance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a spotlight feature published on Medical News Daily:


“During the last 70 years, bacteria have shown the ability to become resistant to every antibiotic that has been developed. And the more antibiotics are used, the more quickly bacteria develop resistance. The use of antibiotics at any time in any setting puts biological pressure on bacteria that promotes the development of resistance.”

Currently, 23,000 individuals die each year in the United States alone as a result of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Both doctors and parents must work together to prevent the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Doctors should consider bacterial prevalence when making decisions about antibiotic use. Parents should not pressure doctors to prescribe antibiotics while questioning the need for antibiotics when prescribed. More tools must also be developed to help doctors distinguish between bacterial and viral infections.

Two recent studies concluded that antibiotics may play a role in the development of food allergies and that antibiotics may cause serious diarrheal infections among children.


Antibiotics are ‘overprescribed’ among children for respiratory infections:
Bacterial prevalence and antimicrobial prescribing trends for acute respiratory tract infections:
Despite warnings, antibiotics still overprescribed in kids:
Millions of kids prescribed unnecessary antibiotics:

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Written by Heather

Heather is a writer, librarian, linguist, wife, homemaker, homeschooler, and mother.

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