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Children in the United States are being prescribed antibiotics by over-zealous pediatricians, often for conditions which do not warrant the need of any antibiotic. This may lead to serious infections with antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria later on.

The Use of Broad Spectrum Antibiotics has Risen Dramatically over the Years

We are witnessing a sudden spurt in the growth of antibiotic resistant strains of various pathogens. The reason behind this surge this not far to see. Over-zealous pediatricians are prescribing antibiotics to children even for conditions where they offer no benefit to the patient.

The use of broad spectrum antibiotics has risen dramatically over the years. Even in conditions where the diagnosis has not been clearly established, doctors prefer to prescribe antibiotics, just to be on the safer side. This especially holds true for ear infections.

This widespread abuse of antibiotics has given rise to hordes of microbes which are resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics. These resistant microbes increase the cost of treatment unnecessarily and may even lead to failure of treatment. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics can lead a child to become a carrier of resistant microbes. Moreover, broad spectrum antibiotics, the current favorite of most pediatricians, tend to destroy the natural microflora of the body. This exposes the children to much serious infections.

Keeping in mind the rampant misuse of antibiotics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), had formulated guidelines for pediatricians for the judicious use of antibiotics. However, these guidelines remain largely unused.

On an Average, 10 Million Antibiotic Prescription Annually are Unnecessary

Dr. Adam Hersh, from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, along with his colleagues tried to analyze the antibiotic prescribing habits in ambulatory patients. They collected the data of around 65,000 children who had seen the doctor in an outpatient setting, from the National Ambulatory and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care surveys done from the year 2006 to 2008.

The researchers found that antibiotics were prescribed to as many as 21% children of which 50% received a broad spectrum antibiotic. The children who most frequently received antibiotics were suffering from respiratory problems. 23% of these children received antibiotics even though their condition did not warrant the need of antibiotics. These conditions included asthma, allergies and even flu like symptoms.

On an average, 10 million antibiotic prescriptions annually are unnecessary. This, according to Dr. Hersh, is a very disturbing trend. He suggests that doctors should “wait and watch”, when the diagnosis is not clear, instead of prescribing antibiotics straight away. He urges the parents and family members to question the doctor as to why he has prescribed antibiotic. It is better to bear with a mild infection and let it take its natural course, rather than taking antibiotic. This will make the antibiotic more effective in case of bigger infections later on.

Lastly, the doctors should follow the three golden rules while prescribing antibiotics:

1.    Prescribe antibiotic only when you are sure of the diagnosis and the patient is likely to benefit from the medicine.

2.    Prescribe antibiotic according to the nature of microbes.

3.    Make sure that the antibiotic is taken in the right dose and its course is completed.

  • “Antibiotic Prescribing in Ambulatory Pediatrics in the United States”, by Adam L. Hersh, et al, Pediatrics, published online November 7, 2011, accessed on November 30, 2011. Retrieved from
  • “Antibiotics overprescribed for children: study”, by Genevra Pittman, Reuters Health, published on November 8, 2011, accessed on November 30, 2011. Retrieved from
  • “Appropriate Antibiotic Use for Pediatricians”, Georgia Chapter- American Academy of Pediatrics, accessed on November 30, 2011. Retrieved from
  • Photo courtesy of Andrew Gray by Flickr :