Antibiotic Progress? Mixed Results

Overuse of antibiotics leads to more resistant bacteria and to sicker kids. A survey of physicians published in the June 19, 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reports a significant drop in antibiotic prescribing rates for children.

In 1989-1990, there were 838 antibiotic prescriptions per 1000 children each year. By 1999-2000, the number had dropped to 503. In 1989-1990, antibiotics were prescribed at 33 percent of all office visits (for any cause). By 1999-2000, this had dropped to 23 percent of office visits.

This is welcome news indeed!

Nevertheless, throughout the period of the study, bacterial resistance continued to increase – and it is no wonder. Millions of courses of unnecessary antibiotics are still being prescribed each year. This same survey showed that at the end of the study, 2 million prescriptions were still given each year to children under age 15 when the diagnosis was a viral upper respiratory infection.

At the end of the study, a child who visited the doctor with a cold got antibiotics 22 percent of the time; with a sore throat (usually viral), 69 percent; and with bronchitis (usually viral) 77 percent of the time. The CDC says, “Bronchitis or a nonspecific cough illness in children rarely warrants antibiotics.”

Clearly, we still have a long way to go. In the meantime, print this page and bring it with you to the doctor.

Published on: June 20, 2002
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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