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Antibiotic treatment for children who have pneumonia may be no more effective than not giving them the medications at all, according to the findings of a new study.
Current recommendations call for antibiotics to only be prescribed for bacterial infection, but the drugs are also often used for viral infections Some prior research has shown that about half of all antibiotics are prescribed without an infection diagnosis.
Doctors often prescribe children an antibiotic when they suspect pneumonia, but a new study published in the April issue of the medical journal Pediatrics suggests the practice may not actually help children any more than not giving them the drug.
Researchers with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center evaluated data on nearly 300 children ages 3 months to 18 years, who were discharged from the emergency room with suspected community-acquired pneumonia. Pneumonia was diagnosed by chest X-ray or clinical impression. Half of the children were given prescriptions for antibiotics and half were discharged from the emergency room without a prescription.
Overall, nearly 9% of children had what is known as “failed treatment,” meaning they had to return to the hospital and be admitted or had to change the type of treatment or antibiotics given. However, there was no statistical difference between children who had treatment failure from antibiotics and those who did not receive antibiotics at all.
Children who received antibiotics and those who did not had nearly identical rates of hospitalization and return visits. The rates of children who were initially given antibiotics, but later returned because it didn’t work and needed another type of antibiotic were similar compared to children who were never given antibiotics and returned to the hospital and needed antibiotics after all.
Antibiotics are only effective for bacterial pneumonia, not viral infections. However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a bacterial infection and viral infection when a child is in the emergency room. For that reason, doctors often prescribe the drugs just in case.
Two studies published last year indicated antibiotics are still widely prescribed inappropriately for patients who don’t need the drugs or for patients without confirmed bacterial infections.
However, the findings of the new study emphasize children who are in relatively good health otherwise and have a lower probability for bacterial infection may not need them.
Children who are well enough to be managed at home should not routinely be treated with antibiotics, the researchers warned.
Antibiotic overuse and inappropriate prescribing are problematic, as overprescribing often leads to the emergence of antibiotic resistant infections. These superbugs lead to more than 35,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. In fact, researchers warn superbug evolution is outpacing antibiotic development, highlighting the need for stricter antibiotic stewardship and prescribing methods.