Antibiotic Risk of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Identified in Study

New research suggests that side effects of some antibiotics may increase the risk of arthritis in young users, leading the scientists behind the study to conclude that antibiotic overuse needs to be addressed. 

In a study published in last month’s issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers from Rutgers warn that antibiotic exposure doubled the risk of children developing juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), indicating that the higher the exposure, the higher the chances of a child developing arthritis.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis, also known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, is the most frequent type of arthritis diagnosed in children under the age of 17. It causes persistent point pain, stiffness and swelling, but has also been linked to growth problems and eye inflammation. It can last for only a few months or can result in permanent symptoms.

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Researchers conducted a study using a database on children from the United Kingdom. They found that any antibiotic exposure at all increased the risk of juvenile arthritis by more than double. If a child had five antibiotic courses, that risk tripled.

The arthritis risk for children appeared strongest with those who developed it within one year of exposure. While the study did not identify particular classes of antibiotics, the researchers found that nonbacterial antimicrobial agents, such as antifungal and antiviral drugs, were not associated with an increased risk of arthritis.

The study also found that upper respiratory tract infections treated with antibiotics tended to be more strongly associated with childhood arthritis than upper respiratory tract infections that were not treated with the drugs.

“Our study supports the hypothesis that antibiotic exposure is associated with an increased risk of developing JIA. This effect was significant after adjusting for cofounders such as infection,” the researchers concluded. “This public health finding is potentially important, considering that approximately one-quarter of antibiotics prescribed for children, and an estimated one-half of antibiotics for acute respiratory infections, may be unnecessary and potentially avoidable.”

Increasing concerns have surfaced in recent years over the widespread overuse of antibiotics, which many health experts indicate may result in the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that are more difficult to treat. It is widely recommended that doctors only prescribe antibiotics in cases of confirmed bacterial infections.

In June, the White House held a forum on antibiotic stewardship, calling for changes in how antibiotics are prescribed and used throughout the U.S., in order to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

The White House originally signed Executive Order 13676 in September 2014, designating the fight against antibiotic resistance as a priority. In March, the Administration released a five year plan to combat and prevent antibiotic-resistance bacteria.

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