Giving children two or more courses of antibiotics in a year makes further doses 30% more likely to fail, new research suggests.
Children who had already received antibiotics for coughs, sore throats and earaches within the same year were less likely to respond to the next course and could need additional drugs, hospital treatment or a visit to A&E.
The findings have led researchers to suggest that taking unnecessary antibiotics could do children more harm than good.
A study involving teams from Oxford, Cardiff and Southampton universities analysed the records of more than 250,000 preschool children in a bid to research the risks of overprescribing antibiotics in kids.
The research, published in the British Journal of General Practice, found that those who were given more than two courses in a year were 30% more likely to find the next course less effective.
Commenting on the findings lead researcher, Oliver van Hecke of the University of Oxford, said: “When children receive more antibiotics their likelihood of re-consulting a health professional is affected and inadvertently increases clinical workload.”
Though researchers believe antibiotic resistance could be partly to blame for the results, they also believe a lack of parental awareness about the limited role of antibiotics in many childhood infections, could be prompting parents to seek further treatment unnecessarily.
Responding to the study, the Royal College of GPs encouraged parents to trust their GP if they do advise their children don’t need antibiotics.
“GPs are acutely aware of the potential dangers of prescribing of antibiotics when they are not absolutely necessary – and how this can contribute to growing resistance to these important drugs, which is a global concern,” chairwoman Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said in a statement.
“This research drives home how important it is for patients – and particularly the parents of young children – to understand that antibiotics do not work for every infection and should not be prescribed for the most common childhood conditions such as colds, coughs, ear infections or sort throats which are usually caused by viruses.
“There is a very difficult balance to be struck as antibiotics can be lifesaving drugs for severe infection-related conditions such as sepsis – but instances where children who have an infection really do need antibiotics should be relatively uncommon.”
She added: “GPs are highly trained prescribers and will not suggest any course of medication unnecessarily. Antibiotics will only be prescribed for patients of any age in situations where this is appropriate, and as determined by a full assessment of the patient and their medical history.”
The study results come as it was revealed earlier this year that Brits believe antibiotic resistance is the most pressing threat to global health.
A YouGov poll took 10 risks to global health outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and asked Britons which they considered the most pressing.
It found that bacteria, parasites and fungi becoming resistant resistance was the biggest concern, with six in ten Brits (59%) saying they would class it as a priority global health issue for the scientific community to tackle in 2019.