Prescription for Trouble: Why Too Many Antibiotics Aren't Good for Kids

A New Drug Problem

In fact, many everyday childhood illnesses are becoming increasingly hard to treat. You've probably heard about MRSA—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, potentially deadly bacteria that don't respond to commonly used antibiotics. A new study analyzing data from more than 300 hospitals found that there's been an alarming increase in ear, sinus, and throat infections in children that were caused by MRSA.

However, the problem isn't limited to one superbug. Two-year-old Sloane Poth, of Charlotte, North Carolina, needed surgery last year for a skin infection caused by another strain of drug-resistant bacteria. On Monday, it looked like diaper rash. By Friday, she was in the hospital. "She's fine now, but it was very scary," says her father, Michael. "The surgeon said that he's now seeing two or three serious cases like hers every week."

Although most antibiotic-resistant infections aren't necessarily life-threatening, pediatricians who can't use their first-choice antibiotic may have to prescribe a drug that's not approved for children or simply isn't kid-friendly. "If medicine doesn't taste good, children won't swallow it, and then your only option is to give them a shot," says Mika Hiramatsu, M.D., a pediatrician in Castro Valley, California. For MRSA, however, there are no outpatient shots that work, so a child who won't take oral antibiotics will need to be hospitalized for IV antibiotics. "It's a huge ordeal for the types of infections that would have been very easy for us to cure 20 years ago," says Dr. Hiramatsu.

Treating a resistant infection is also costly in terms of both time and money not to mention anxiety and lost sleep. Karyn Bilezerian's 16-month-old son, Karson, suffered from a painful ear infection for nearly a month until his fourth antibiotic finally did the trick. "Every week, we were going back to the doctor and the pharmacy," says Bilezerian, who lives in Wrentham, Massachusetts. "Karson had never needed antibiotics before, so I was shocked when the first three didn't work. With the fourth one, we saw a difference very quickly—when it worked, it worked."

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