Study denounces ‘false belief’ in antibiotics

A new study shows that children are often prescribed antibiotics they do not actually need, contributing to resistance that may turn into an epidemic. [Shutterstock]

An unprecedented study carried out by a multinational team shows that antibiotic use among Spanish children is verging on excessive, as they are given twice what their German and American equivalents are. EurActiv Spain reports.

The study was carried out by the Foundation for the Advancement of Health and Biomedical Research of Valencia (FISABIO), together with a group of German, Italian, Norwegian, Korean and American scientists, and was published on 27 December by Valencia’s regional government.

Scientists analysed data relating to 74 million children under the age of 18 years between 2008 and 2012 in what the Valencia authorities call the first and most comprehensive study on the subject carried out between countries.

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FISABIO’s scientific director, Javier Díez-Domingo, said that “the results suggest that Spain prescribes a large number of antibiotics to children and that at least 50% of those prescriptions are unnecessary. Resistant bacteria have emerged to all known antibiotics and that is putting people in a compromising situation.”

Díez-Domingo added that “we can still scale-back on this development through rational use of antibiotics” but warned that “there is still a false belief in the goodness of antibiotics and that their usage leads to more problems than benefits”.

In his opinion, “social awareness” on using antibiotics is needed, as well as health education and reducing the number of prescriptions.

The study showed a huge disparity between countries. The country that prescribes the most antibiotics to children per year was revealed to be South Korea. The East Asian country prescribes 7.5 times more of the drugs than the country that prescribes the least: Norway.

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The difference between European countries is also marked. After South Korea, the heaviest prescribers are Italy and Spain, while Norway and Germany perform the best across age groups.

During the first two years of their lives, Spanish children are on average administered antibiotics 1 and a half times a year, a similar rate to Italy. That’s 3.5 times more than in Norway and 50% more than in Germany and the United States.

Spain is among the member states with the highest resistance to antibiotics, along with Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria and Slovenia.