Antibiotic overuse in children's hospitals is leading to more 'superbug' infections in kids

Antibiotic overuse in children's hospitals is leading to more 'superbug' infections in kids
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • Doctors acknowledge that antibiotics are overprescribed.
  • The pandemic is just making the problem worse, they say.
  • Overuse of antibiotics leads to increases in infection from antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

The overuse of antibiotics among pediatric patients is rampant, and likely contributing to a spike in cases of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" in children's hospitals around the United States. The coronavirus pandemic could make the problem even worse, some doctors say.

A study published in October found that among hospitalized children receiving antibiotics, 26% were getting suboptimal treatment - drugs that either weren't right for the infection they had, or were unnecessary.

The data for the study was collected in 2016 and 2017, before the pandemic. Although viruses can't be treated with antibiotics, some doctors are still prescribing antibiotics to COVID-19 pediatric patients in hopes that it might help, or at least prevent subsequent bacterial infections.

Mark Schleiss, a pediatrics professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School told Kaiser Health News (KHN) that the pandemic "has thrown a little bit of gas on the fire."

Overprescribing antibiotics is dangerous because can cause bacteria to morph, becoming resistant to antibiotics and therefore harder to treat. Antibiotics also work on a broad scale, wiping out dangerous bacteria, but also the helpful bugs in our microbiome that are critical to keeping us healthy.


Read more: Nearly a quarter of American parents are 'vaccine hesitant.' That will have implications for COVID-19 vaccination.

That can help explain why superbugs - infections that are resistant to antibiotics - are becoming more common. Rates of one type of infection, multidrug-resistant Gram-negative enteric Enterobacteriaceae, rose more than 700% between 2007 and 2015. Other studies have also found significant increases in the rates of infection.

Dr. Joshua Watson, the director of the antimicrobial stewardship program at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio, told KHR that too often doctors prescribe antibiotics - and parents ask for them - without thinking about the risks.

"I hear a lot about antibiotic use for the 'just in case' scenarios," he said. "We underestimate the downsides."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that antibiotic resistance is "one of the biggest public health challenges of our time."


Oftentimes, common childhood illnesses like cold, flu or ear infection don't need antibiotic treatment. The CDC recommends that parents talk to their doctor about waiting two to three days to see if a child begins feeling better before using antibiotics.

"If we don't solve the problem of finding new antibiotics or somehow making old antibiotics work again, we are going to see sharply increasing deaths from bacterial infections we thought we had beaten decades ago," Corrie Detweiler, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Colorado Boulder, told CU Boulder Today.

"The COVID-19 situation is definitely putting us at risk for increasing resistance to antibiotics, so it's more important now than ever that we come up with alternative treatments," she said.