One-quarter of kids who receive antibiotics in U.S. children's hospitals are given the drugs inappropriately, which increases the risk of antibiotic resistance, researchers say.
"Antibiotic resistance is a growing danger to everyone; however, there is limited data on children," said study co-author Dr. Jason Newland, a professor of pediatrics at Washington University in St. Louis.
"Data on adults have suggested that 30%-50% of antibiotics used in hospitalized adults is inappropriate," Newland noted in a university news release.
He said the goal of the study was to determine if antibiotics used to treat hospitalized children were "suboptimal." That means doctors shouldn't have prescribed any antibiotics; they could have used a more effective antibiotic; or they could have prescribed a different dose or for a shorter duration.
"Health care workers must be vigilant since the inappropriate use of antibiotics is fueling dangerous drug resistance in children," explained Newland, who directs the antimicrobial stewardship program at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
About 1 in 3 patients in U.S. children's hospitals receives one or more antibiotics, the researchers said in background notes.
They analyzed data from nearly 12,000 patients at 32 U.S. children's hospitals. The kids were prescribed one or more antibiotics to treat or prevent infections. Of those patients, 25% -- or nearly 3,600 -- received at least one antibiotic considered inappropriate, according to the study.
The most common cases of inappropriate antibiotic use were: giving the wrong antibiotic for a particular infection at 27 percent; prolonged antibiotic use after surgery to prevent surgical-site infections at 17 percent; unnecessary use of antibiotics at 11 percentl and use of broad-spectrum antibiotics when a drug that targets a specific type of bacteria could have been used at 11 percent.
Pneumonia, or lower respiratory infections, accounted for the greatest percentage of suboptimal prescriptions -- 18 percent.
The researchers also found that about half of inappropriate antibiotic use would not have been detected by current antibiotic stewardship programs designed to prevent antibiotic resistance.
"Arguably, this is one of the most important findings because it helps us to identify blind spots in antimicrobial stewardship programs," Newland said. "Antibiotics currently not targeted for review still have a significant need for oversight. The obvious solution is to expand routine reviews to include all antibiotics. Unfortunately, this is resource-intensive and may not be feasible at some hospitals."
The study was recently published online in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on antibiotics.
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