The American Medical Association published a study recently that reveals parents don’t demand unnecessary prescription antibiotics for their children as often as they used to. According to the study, doctors wrote 36 percent fewer prescriptions for antibiotics in the treatment of ear infections and other upper respiratory infections in 2006 than they did in 1995.
The trend represents a welcome reversal of antibiotic prescription practices that medical researchers say have led to the emergence of virulent antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Therapeutic use of antibiotics in hospitals, as a prophylactic (preventative) measure for travelers, and as placebo are some of the other forms of antibiotic misuse that researchers believe nurture the evolution of stronger bacteria types.
A study on respiratory tract infections published in a 2007 volume of the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that “physicians were more likely to prescribe antibiotics to patients who they believed expected them, although they correctly identified only about 1 in 4 of those patients.”
Patients who have no medical training often misunderstand antibiotics and their proper applications. Many parents of young children, for example, view antibiotics as panaceas that can cure a spectrum of ailments; and physicians, wanting to maintain patient satisfaction, often write prescriptions for antibiotics because patients expect them, not because they will work.
A number of government and non-government groups have called for reforming antibiotic prescription practices because misuse and overuse threatens to encourage the development of even more resilient strains of bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the American Public Health Association (APHA), the American Medical Association (AMA), and Keep Antibiotics Working are all working to raise awareness of responsible antibiotic use.
According to an article in U.S. News and World Report, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians adopted new guidelines in 2004 “for treating ear infections in children, urging doctors to try treating acute ear infections with two to three days of pain relief before prescribing amoxicillin.”
Given that doctors often presume parents want antibiotics for their children, parents with sick children should ask their doctors if any prescribed antibiotics are essential to treatment, especially since antibiotics have been linked to occurences of severe liver damage and even death in young children.