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Giving antibiotics to children for coughs, colds ‘increases their chance of becoming ill in future’


Children should not be prescribed antibiotics for coughs and colds because it increases their chance of becoming ill in the future, a study suggests.

Preschool children are 30 per cent more likely to visit a doctor if they have received more than two courses of antibiotics from their General Practitioner (GP) in the previous year, the research showed.

Scientists at the University of Oxford said this is because antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria that can help toddlers fight off other pathogens and infections.Taking antibiotics also increases the number of drug-resistant bacteria a child carries, meaning future courses of the drugs might not work.


Many of the antibiotic prescriptions given to children under five are unnecessary and they are frequently doled out for viral infections such as sore throats.The study, published Tuesday in the British Journal of General Practice, was based on National Health Service (NHS) data for 250,000 children aged one to five.

Those who had received two or more antibiotic prescriptions for coughs, colds and sore throats were 30 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital or need other medical attention within the next year.

Doctors responded to the research by urging parents to ‘understand antibiotics do not work for every infection’ and to trust their GPs when they say the drugs are not necessary.

Study author Oliver van Hecke said: “When children receive more antibiotics their likelihood of re-consulting a health professional is affected and increases clinical workload, even though the majority of respiratory tract infections in children are viral, self-limiting and would not be expected to have benefited from antibiotic treatment.”

GPs have been repeatedly told to reduce the number of prescriptions they give out amid fears that overuse of antibiotics is fuelling a superbug crisis.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs are acutely aware of the potential dangers of prescribing antibiotics when they are not absolutely necessary and how this can contribute to growing resistance to these important drugs, which is a global concern.

“This research drives home how important it is for patients – and particularly the parents of young children – to understand that antibiotics do not work for every infection and should not be prescribed for the most common childhood conditions such as colds, coughs, ear infections or sort throats, which are usually caused by viruses.”

She added: “There is a very difficult balance to be struck as antibiotics can be lifesaving drugs for severe infection-related conditions such as sepsis, but instances where children who have an infection really do need antibiotics should be relatively uncommon.

“We would certainly welcome more research into rapid, definitive tests to establish if an infection is viral or bacterial and for GPs to have easy access to them, which would certainly help in these situations.

“Ultimately, parents know their children better than anyone and if they are concerned about a persistent medical problem or illness, they should see their GP. But we would urge them to trust their GP if they advise that antibiotics are not necessary.”

A recent study found that almost 40 per cent of antibiotics prescriptions in England are given to patients who do not need them.Many drugs already useless against increasingly resistant germs and the more antibiotics are used, the stronger superbugs become.The drugs are effective only when used to treat bacterial, rather than viral, infections.


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