TUESDAY, Sept. 5, 2017 -- White children are about twice as likely as black or Hispanic kids to get unneeded antibiotics when treated in U.S. emergency rooms for viral respiratory infections, a new study finds.
For years, scientists have warned that unnecessary use of antibiotics is making germs stronger and more resistant to medications.
"It is encouraging that just 2.6 percent of children treated in pediatric emergency departments across the nation received antibiotics for viral acute respiratory tract infections, since antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral infections," said study leader Dr. Monika Goyal.
"However, it is troubling to see such persistent racial and ethnic differences in how medications are prescribed," said Goyal. She is the director of research in the division of emergency medicine at Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C.
Upper respiratory infections, which include the common cold, are one of the most common reasons a child visits the emergency department. Research has previously suggested that up to 75 percent of kids with viral respiratory infections are prescribed unnecessary antibiotics.
For the new study, researchers examined medical records from 2013 for more than 39,000 cases of respiratory viral infection treated at seven U.S. pediatric emergency departments. Patients' average age was 3.
Over 4 percent of white patients received antibiotics, versus just under 2 percent of black patients and 3 percent of Hispanic patients, the study found.
"A number of studies have demonstrated disparities with regards to how children of different ethnicities and races are treated in our nation's pediatric emergency departments, including frequency of computed tomography scans for minor head trauma, laboratory and radiology tests, and pain management," Goyal said in a health system news release.
"Unfortunately, today's results provide further evidence of racial and ethnic differences in providing health care in the emergency department setting," she said. "Although, in this case, minority children received evidence-based care, more study is needed to explain why differences in care exist at all."
Each year, an estimated 2 million people in the United States are infected with bacteria that resist antibiotics, the researchers said in background notes.
Why does the problem of prescribing unnecessary antibiotics persist?
"It may come down to factors as simple as providers or parents believing that 'more is better,' despite the clear public health risks of prescribing children antibiotics unnecessarily," Goyal said.
Educating parents and providers about appropriate antibiotic use could help the pediatric patients of today as well as in the future, she added.
The study was published online Sept. 5 in the journal Pediatrics.
More information The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about antibiotic use in kids.
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