Antibiotics are the leading cause of U.S. emergency department visits for adverse drug events in children, according to a new study authored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist and member of the Mayo Clinic Antimicrobial Stewardship Group, says the new CDC report is an important reminder of the health risks of overprescribing antibiotics.
Dr. Rajapakse offers this statement to provide insight to the seriousness of this growing problem:
"Antibiotics are lifesaving medications when used in the right situations. Unfortunately, they continue to be overprescribed for many conditions like colds and flus, which are caused by viruses, and for which antibiotics are not effective. The CDC has estimated that 1 in 3 prescriptions for antibiotics given to children is unnecessary.
This new study by the CDC highlights some of the risks of taking antibiotics, focusing on adverse drug reactions and visits to the emergency department by children in the U.S. The risks and downsides of taking antibiotics are often underappreciated by both patients and doctors when it comes to antibiotics. The article highlights antibiotics as the leading cause of visits to the emergency department by children due to an adverse drug reaction. Most reactions were due to very commonly prescribed antibiotics like amoxicillin. Younger children were more likely to experience a reaction than older children.
Every year, doctors take care of children who not only end up coming to the emergency department but end up being admitted to a hospital or sometimes to an intensive care unit because of complications from taking an antibiotic —things like serious allergic reactions leading to low blood pressure or breathing issues (anaphylaxis) or severe skin rashes that require treatments similar to burn patients. These cases are all the more tragic when you go back through the story and it is clear the antibiotic was not necessary in the first place.
Adverse drug events from antibiotics can range from mild things like rash to life-threatening reactions like anaphylaxis. With many of the most serious reactions, it is impossible to predict at the time of prescribing which children will be affected and which will not. A child who is otherwise completely healthy can still have a very severe reaction to an antibiotic. This is why it is so important to only take antibiotics when you really need them to treat a bacterial infection.
We know that overprescribing and overuse of antibiotics leads to harm at the population level. We see this with the increasing rates of antibiotic resistance. However, this article highlights that there are important risks at the individual level as well. These results should encourage patients/parents and health care providers to have a careful discussion about whether an antibiotic is truly required or not and, if so, what the risks are. Antibiotics are not always the right answer. In many cases, especially for viral infections, symptomatic relief with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, drinking plenty of fluids, using lozenges or popsicles, and rest will help people feel better without exposing them to the risks of taking an antibiotic, which will not help them and can definitely cause them harm as shown in this study."
Nipunie Rajapakse, M.D.
Pediatric Infectious Diseases