Children must be prescribed ‘dramatically’ fewer antibiotics because the drugs may contribute to superbugs, allergies, diabetes and obesity, a leading academic has claimed.
While antibiotics have helped us live longer, they are also killing off bacteria which fight disease.
It is the latest salvo in the debate on antibiotic overuse, following a series of studies linking them to increased risks of various diseases.
This time U.S. microbiology expert Martin Blaser said his research, to be published later this year, suggests our ‘good bacteria’ never fully recover from a course of antibiotics.
The average child in the UK has taken ten courses by the age of 16 – more than one every two years, according to NHS statistics. Most of these will be in early childhood.
‘Antibiotics kill the bacteria we do want, as well as those we don’t,’ Dr Blaser wrote in the journal Nature.
‘These long-term changes to the beneficial bacteria within people’s bodies may even increase our susceptibility to infections and disease.
‘Overuse of antibiotics could be fuelling the dramatic increase in conditions such as obesity, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and asthma, which have more than doubled in many populations.’
Two years ago, Britain’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, launched a campaign to cut down on antibiotics for colds, flu and sore throats, which are prescribed to up to 10million people a year, although these viruses rarely respond to them.
Dr Blaser, chairman of the Department of Medicine at New York University, said over-prescribing is particularly serious in children and pregnant mothers, as we may leave the next generation unable to fight common diseases.
He linked over-prescribing antibiotics to the development of ‘superbugs’ and said they risk preventing serious infections such as pneumonia from being treated successfully.
‘Generation is important,’ he said.
‘A woman born in the 1940s might have two courses of antibiotics in childhood. If she has a daughter, she might pass on slightly fewer normal bacteria. Her daughter will likely have several courses of antibiotics and the granddaughter has slightly fewer bacteria again.
‘Each generation could be beginning life with a smaller endowment.
‘I am not saying not to give antibiotics to people with serious illnesses.
But if what we suspect is proven, doctors need to look more closely at risk and benefit.’
Recent research showed a single course of amoxicillin – commonly used to treat ear infections in children – can eradicate 20 to 50 per cent of their H.pylori, which has been linked to an increase in oesophageal cancer, has been linked by a study.
A study of 580,000 children by Danish scientists this year found those prescribed penicillin and similar medicines were at higher risk of irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
Type 1 diabetes – which is an immunological disease rather than diet-related – is also being diagnosed earlier in children, research has shown.
And studies in animals have shown for years that antibiotics cause weight gain.