Antibiotics linked to health risks in kids

| 26/01/2011

(CNS): Children who are prescribed antibiotics within the first six months of life are at a significantly increased risk of developing asthma and allergies by the time they reach six, according to new report. Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health in the United States followed 1,400 women, collecting data throughout their pregnancies and from their children until their sixth birthdays. They found that infants exposed to antibiotics during their first six months were up to 52 percent more likely to develop childhood asthma and allergies than those who did not receive antibiotics.

While previous studies have also found that antibiotic use may increase the risk of asthma in children, those studies may have been biased because antibiotics are used to treat respiratory tract infections that could themselves be early symptoms of asthma.

The Yale study sought to eliminate this bias and concluded that antibiotic use increased risk of childhood asthma even in children who have not experienced respiratory tract infections and in children whose asthma is first diagnosed after three years of age.

According to researchers, the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics and the fact that children in developed countries grow up in overly hygienic environments may suppress their developing immune system and produce a reduced anti-allergic response.

Researchers say that early microbial exposure, particularly in the intestinal tract, seems necessary for transition to a mature and balanced immune system in childhood. Antibiotic use, especially broad-spectrum antibiotics, may alter microbial flora in the gut, thereby causing imbalances in the immune system and a poor allergic response.

A third of infants in the US are exposed to antibiotics in the first six months of life, most commonly for respiratory tract infections, although the majority of these diseases are viral and do not respond to antibiotics. The use of broad-spectrum antibiotics continues to increase.

“The findings from our study should encourage physicians to avoid unnecessary antibiotic use, especially in low-risk children,” said Kari Risnes, a paediatrician from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, visiting researcher at the Yale Center for Perinatal, Paediatric and Environmental Epidemiology and the study’s lead author.

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