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The widespread distribution of antibiotics to preschoolers in sub-Saharan African villages helped to reduce child mortality, but it also increased antibiotic resistance among the children, according to the findings of a new study.
In findings published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers indicate that mass distribution of Zithromax and similar azithromycin-based antibiotics to children increased the risk of antibiotic resistance more than seven-fold, increasing the risk of severe and difficult to treat “superbug” infections.
Researchers in the MORDOR study at the University of California, San Francisco, enrolled 30 villages in sub-Saharan Africa in a concurrent trial. They randomly assigned villages to receive mass distribution of azithromycin antibiotics, also sold under the brand name Zithromax, or placebos. They was given to all children ages 1 month to 59 months, and were administered every six months for four years.
Rectal swabs were collected from participants at baseline, then at 36 months, and again 48 months for analysis of antibiotic resistance. A total of 3,200 samples were collected during the entire trial period, including 546 samples from 15 villages that received placebo and 504 samples from 14 villages that received Zithromax.
The findings indicated antibiotic resistance was higher in the Zithromax group than the placebo group. At 36 months, antibiotic resistance was 7.4 times as high and at 48 months it was 7.5 times as high.
Antibiotic resistance has been a growing concern worldwide in recent years, as researchers have noted a rise in bacteria that does not respond to available antibiotics. In response, a number of studies have highlighted the widespread overprescribing of antibiotics for inappropriate conditions, for which the drugs provide no actual benefit.
Recently the United Nations warned superbug evolution is outpacing the development of new antibiotics that can be used to treat the infections.
This latest research indicates mass distribution of Zithromax antibiotics to preschool children helped to reduce childhood deaths in Africa, but it also increased their resistance to antibiotics.
The findings are in line with other studies that indicated high rates of antibiotic resistance were found among children with urinary tract infections who have received several rounds of antibiotics.
These findings compound research indicating taking Zithromax may increase the risk of heart problems when combined with drugs that affect heart rhythm.
Data indicates antibiotic resistant infections could lead to more than 35,000 deaths each year in the United States alone.