By Oliver van Hecke in The Conversation.
GPs in the UK carry out over 300m patient consultations every year and at least a quarter of these deal with children. Almost two-thirds of such appointments are for coughs, sore throats, or earaches – illnesses which young children commonly get.
Doctors and nurses group these types of illnesses as “acute respiratory tract infections”. They are considered to be “self-limiting”, meaning that antibiotics have little or no benefit and that the illness will go away in time. Yet, in at least 30% of these consultations, antibiotics are prescribed. That’s an estimated 13m unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. This is not only wasteful but may also have unintended consequences for the child’s health.
Indeed, in our new study of over 250,000 children in the UK, we found that preschool children who had taken two or more antibiotic courses for acute respiratory tract infections in the preceding year had around a 30% greater chance of not responding to subsequent treatment (including the need for hospital referral and admission) compared to children who hadn’t taken any antibiotics. Our study specifically excluded children with long-term health conditions that would make them more prone to infections.
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