The use of antibiotics drives the development of antibiotic resistance, a major threat to public health worldwide. But these drugs also carry the risk of harm to individual patients, including children. According to a new analysis published in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, antibiotics led to nearly 70,000 estimated emergency room visits in the U.S. each year from 2011-2015 for allergic reactions and other side effects in children. The study helps quantify the risk posed by specific antibiotics in children across different age ranges.

“For parents and other caregivers of children, these findings are a reminder that while antibiotics save lives when used appropriately, antibiotics also can harm children and should only be used when needed,” said lead author Maribeth C. Lovegrove, MPH, Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “For healthcare providers, these findings are a reminder that adverse effects from antibiotics are common and can be clinically significant and consequential for pediatric patients.”

For their analysis, researchers used nationwide estimates for outpatient antibiotic prescriptions and data from a nationally representative sample of hospitals for emergency room visits attributed to the use of antibiotics by children aged 19 and younger. Most of the visits (86 percent) were for allergic reactions, such as a rash, pruritus (itching), or angioedema (severe swelling beneath the skin). The risk of a visit varied by child age and type of antibiotic, but for most antibiotics, children aged 2 or younger had the highest risk of an adverse drug event. Forty-one percent of visits involved children in this age group. Amoxicillin was the most commonly implicated antibiotic in adverse drug events among children aged 9 or younger, while sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim was most commonly implicated among children 10-19 years old.

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