The U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week issued a new report and guidance urging physicians to cut back on antibiotic use in children.
Specifically, the CDC has called on doctors to cut back on prescribing antibiotics for upper respiratory conditions such as ear infections, sinus infections, and sore throats. Many of these infections are caused by viruses, meaning that antibiotics would not help. The agency estimates that upwards of 10 million children in the U.S. could be at risk for side effects from unnecessary antibiotics.
In addition to the added dangers to children, the CDC is once again warning the public about the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“Our medicine cabinet is nearly empty of antibiotics to treat some infections,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. “If doctors prescribe antibiotics carefully and patients take them as prescribed we can preserve these lifesaving drugs and avoid entering a post-antibiotic era.”
When exposed to antibiotics, bacteria is able evolve resistances to the medications. Overprescribing antibiotics could be helping these resistant bacteria strains thrive. The CDC warned back in September that up to 50% of antibiotic use is not needed or mis-prescribed. The agency estimates that 23,000 Americans die each year to infections that are resistant to antibiotics.
“Many people have the misconception that since antibiotics are commonly used that they are harmless,” said Dr. Lauri Hicks, coauthor of the CDC's new report. “Taking antibiotics when you have a virus can do more harm than good.”
The CDC's recommendations include steps that doctors can take to rule out viral infections and ensure that antibiotics are needed. The agency is also urging doctors to weigh the benefits of antibiotics against possible side effects (including promoting resistance) when prescribing the medications and to prescribe only the exact dose needed over the shortest period of time possible.