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Millions of Kids' Antibiotic Prescriptions Unneeded

Pediatricians write more than 10 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions—for conditions like the flu and asthma—every year, suggest a new study.
Those ailments, and others not caused by bacteria, do not respond to the drug antibiotics. Rather, the over prescription of these drugs contributes to drug resistance—so those same medications might not work in the future when they're really needed.
A new study involved a nationally-representative sample of almost 65,000 outpatient visits by kids under 18 in 2006 through 2008 found that in total, doctors prescribed an antibiotic at one in every five visits. Most prescriptions were given out for kids with respiratory ailments, including sinus infections and pneumonia. Some of those infections are caused by bacteria, and antibiotics are warranted. But almost one-quarter of all antibiotic prescriptions were given to kids with respiratory conditions that probably or definitely do not call for antibiotics—such as bronchitis, the flu, asthma and allergies. That translates to more than 10 million antibiotic prescriptions each year that likely won't do any good but might do harm.
Half of all antibiotics prescribed were "broad-spectrum" drugs—meaning they act against a wide range of bacteria. Those "kill more of the good bacteria in our bodies and can set the child up for infections with antibiotic resistant bacteria down the road. Broad-spectrum antibiotics include macrolides and certain types of cephalosporins and penicillins. The consequential wiping out the non-harmful bacteria in the intestines has been linked to asthma and, recently, to obesity.
One reason overuse occurs is because the diagnosis is often unclear—this is common with ear infections, and the prescribing doctor just wants 'to be on the safe side. In those cases, a "wait and see" approach in which the kid comes back to the office a couple days later might avoid an unnecessary prescription.
If your doctor suggests an antibiotic prescription, for instance for an ear infection, ask how certain the diagnosis is. If the diagnosis is still a little unclear, ask if it would be safe to wait a day or two with close follow up rather than starting the antibiotic right away. Parents should ask doctors why their kids are getting whatever particular medication, including antibiotics, they're being prescribed. Parents and families should be part of the decision and ask why (something) is being done and should also know "not to expect an antibiotic every time an infection is diagnosed."
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