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Antibiotics send around 70,000 children to the emergency room every year, study says

A study published in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society in 2018 found that just under 70,000 children are sent to the emergency room each year for an adverse reaction to antibiotics.
A study published in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society in 2018 found that just under 70,000 children are sent to the emergency room each year for an adverse reaction to antibiotics. Creative Commons

Each year, tens of thousands of children who take antibiotics for an illness will head to the emergency room — because of the drugs.

That’s according to a study published in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, which found that around 70,000 people under the age of 19 were treated at a hospital emergency room because of an adverse reaction to antibiotics every year between 2011 and 2015.

And while that may sound bad, Dr. Michael Russo, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who was not involved with the study, said “this is only the tip of the iceberg,” according to ABC News.

“The study only includes children that went to the ER,” he said, “not those who went to an urgent care, doctor’s office, or suffered at home.”

This new study focuses on a medicine that is prescribed millions of times each year.

There were a total of 269 million prescriptions for antibiotics in 2015, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means for every 1,000 people, there are 838 prescriptions for antibiotics, as noted by the CDC.

For those under the age of 20, there were just under 65 million antibiotic prescriptions that year, with an average of 788 prescriptions for every 1,000 people in that age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And of the millions of prescriptions for children, around 70,000 have a reaction that’s bad enough to send them to the hospital, the new study says.

There’s a major reason for that: Eighty-six percent of the children who go to the emergency room are experiencing an allergic reaction to the antibiotics they took, the study noted.

Of those children at the emergency room for reactions to antibiotics, about 40 percent are 2 years old or younger, according to the study.

A press release from the study’s authors noted that some types of antibiotics seem to pose more problems for different age groups. Of those aged 10 to 19, sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim caused the most emergency room visits, while amoxicillin was the biggest culprit for those younger than 10.

A major caveat of the study is that it didn’t differentiate between children who were prescribed antibiotics they actually needed and children who had an adverse reaction to an unnecessary antibiotic prescription, the researchers wrote in their press release.

“Prior research has suggested that nearly a third, if not more, of outpatient pediatric prescriptions for antibiotics are unnecessary,” the press release reads.

That’s why Maribeth C. Lovegrove, the study’s lead author and researcher with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that it’s important to remember “antibiotics can also harm children and should only be used when needed.”

“For health care providers,” she said in the press release, “these findings are a reminder that adverse effects from antibiotics are common and can be clinically significant and consequential for pediatric patients.”

A new guideline from health officials in the United Kingdom suggests that if possible, honey should be considered as a treatment for a cough before resorting to antibiotics, according to The Guardian. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence and Publich Health England just issued the draft guidance that aims to cut down on the use of antibiotics.

A look at the key points and graphics of the CDC report, Antibiotic Threats in the United States.

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