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Reduced: Unnecessary Antibiotics for Children

June 25, 2002

Physicians are prescribing fewer antibiotics than they did a decade or so ago to children and adolescents under the age of 15. The results are welcome news to healthcare professionals and researchers across the country. During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a significant rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, infection-causing bacteria that are difficult to kill. Researchers have blamed this trend on the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics can be an effective way to treat bacterial infections that cause such problems as strep throat, some sinus infections, and the acute form of otitis media, an infection of the middle ear that accounts for most doctor and emergency room visits by infants and young children. However, they are completely ineffective against infections that are caused by viruses, such as colds, the flu, and sore throats.

A report of the study showing decreased prescription of antibiotics to children is in the June 19, 2002, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The study found that, on average, the number of antibiotic prescriptions per 1,000 children and adolescents under the age of 15 dropped by 40 percent (from 838 for the year 1989-1990 to 503 for 1999-2000). Likewise, the number of antibiotic prescriptions resulting from doctor visits fell by 29 percent (from 330 prescriptions for every 1,000 doctor visits in 1989-1990 to 234 for every 1,000 visits in 1999-2000). For otitis media, doctors wrote 47 percent fewer antibiotic prescriptions for every 1,000 individuals, however, the number of prescriptions resulting from doctor visits showed no significant change between the two years.

In a second study in the same issue of JAMA, researchers found that an intensive yearlong educational campaign targeted to healthcare providers in Knoxville, Tennessee, a city with very high levels of antibiotic resistance, helped reduce the number of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions for children under 15 years of age by 19 percent. Intervention activities alone were responsible for a decline of 11 percent in antibiotic prescriptions for that age group.

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