Children under the age of two who are treated with antibiotics risk developing childhood-onset asthma and other diseases which may or may not be infectious.
According to the study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, children under the age of two who take antibiotics are at greater risk for childhood-onset asthma, respiratory allergies, eczema, celiac disease, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
In the study, the researchers looked at 14,572 children born in Olmsted County, Minnesota, USA, between 2003 and 2011 in which 70 percent of them received at least one antibiotic prescription during their first two years, primarily for respiratory or ear infections.
The researchers from Rutgers University in the U.S. say the findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the composition of the microbiome — the trillions of beneficial microorganisms that live in and on our bodies — plays a critical role in the early development of immunity, metabolism and behaviour.
Reacting to the study, a professor of paediatrics at the College of Health Sciences, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Aisha Gobir, says all healthcare workers must think seriously before prescribing antibiotics for children.
Gobir told our correspondent that the study was factual, based on previous studies.
Gobir, who is also a Consultant Paediatrician specialising in pulmonology, infectious diseases and adolescent health, said, “There have been previous studies on this subject.
“The basic understanding is that the body is colonised by microbes that are not harmful, but rather useful in helping us develop immunity and fight against inflammatory and allergic diseases.
“The useful microbes reside in the mouth, upper respiratory tract, bowel and skin.
“Early exposure to antibiotics alter the natural microbes population and have been associated with inflammatory and allergic diseases.”
The paediatrician further said, “In addition to the normal flora, early exposure to infections also thought to aid development of immune system.
“This is known as the hygiene hypothesis in medicine. The association is not completely understood. That’s the simple position.
“All health care workers must think seriously before prescribing antibiotics to children.
“The risks must be weighed and benefits must be huge before such a decision is made.
“All antibiotics used must be rationally deployed and given for the most appropriate duration for the condition.”
Co-author of the study and Director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers University, Martin Blaser, said, “The evolution of drug-resistant bacteria exemplifies one unintended consequence of antibiotic overuse.
“The increasing prevalence of health conditions that start in childhood has triggered concern about antibiotic exposures during key developmental periods because of their impact on the microbiome.
“While previous studies have looked at the association of antibiotics with single diseases, this is the first to look at the association across many diseases.
“The study found that antibiotics were associated with metabolic diseases (obesity, being overweight), immunological diseases (asthma, food allergies, hay fever and cognitive conditions or disorders (ADHD, autism), but effects varied among the different antibiotics.”
The researchers also found that risk increased with more courses of antibiotics and when given earlier in life — especially within the first six months.
“The findings from Olmsted County provide evidence for broad and delayed effects of early life antibiotic exposures, and should change doctors’ practices in how often they prescribe antibiotics, especially for mild conditions,” Blaser said.
Prof. Gobir, while reacting further to the study, told PUNCH HealthWise that parents must be aware of risks of across-the-counter purchase of antibiotics and should be discouraged from such.
“The sad news now is that many organisms are becoming resistant to common antibiotics because of irrational use.
“Add this to the risk of chronic diseases means we all must exercise restraint before using antibiotics in children especially infants”, the paediatrician said.
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