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Antibiotic prescriptions for kids fall, but the news isn’t all good

The Wall Street Journal, September 2, 2011

When kids get respiratory infections like bronchitis or the common cold, most times they don't need antibiotics to get better. Many still receive the drugs, however, even after public-health campaigns warning against overuse. Unnecessarily administering the drugs does patients no good and can lead to antibiotic resistance -- potentially rendering the drugs useless against serious infections. New stats out today from the CDC show that antibiotic prescribing rates for kids 14 and under have improved since the early 1990s. But the prescribing rate "remains inappropriately high," the report says. Overall prescribing rates fell 24% to 229 antibiotic prescriptions per 1,000 office visits in 2007-2008 from 300 in 1993-1994. Looking specifically at acute respiratory infections, prescription rates fell 11%; specifically, rates fell 26% for sore throat (pharyngitis) and 19% for the common cold. That's good news, the CDC says. And changes in prescribing behavior are likely at least partly responsible. Fueling the drop in sore throat prescriptions may be a rapid test for strep throat that helps doctors rule out or diagnose that condition -- which can be treated with antibiotics -- on the spot. But the CDC says there's plenty of bad news in the report, too. A full 58% of the antibiotics prescribed for kids in 2007-2008 were for acute respiratory infections and therefore mostly unnecessary.