C. Diff in Children: Are Antibiotics to Blame?

C. Diff in Children: Are Antibiotics to Blame?

In the past year, we've seen the federal government shine more light on the over-prescribing of antibiotics than ever before. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been studying it in doctor's offices across the nation. They've also tied the use of antibiotics to a debilitating illness called Clostridium difficile or C. diff, especially C. diff in children.

In fact, in one study researchers found that 60 percent of doctors prescribed antibiotics for sore throats when only 10 percent required them and 73 percent of doctors prescribed antibiotics for bronchitis when they are completely ineffective at fighting the illness. New CDC research is showing that overprescribed antibiotics are responsible for an increasing number of kids with C. diff.

Read more about the dangers of overprescribing antibiotics

"[P]eople need to understand that by taking antibiotics for viral infections, they're putting something in their bodies that they don't need," said Jeffrey A. Linder, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, associate physician at Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston, and senior author of the study, reported on Science Daily. "Taking antibiotics unnecessarily exposes people to adverse drug reactions, allergies, yeast infections and nausea, with no benefit."

C. difficile is a bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhea and in some cases, death. Kids that have recently taken antibiotics are getting it much more frequently. According to new research from the CDC, 71 percent of C. diff cases in children ages 1-17 were associated with their community healthcare provider or family doctor, compared to adults, where two-thirds were associated with hospital stays. Of those cases, 73 percent of kids had been prescribed antibiotics.

"Improved antibiotic prescribing is critical to protect the health of our nation's children," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.  "When antibiotics are prescribed incorrectly, our children are needlessly put at risk for health problems including C. difficile infection and dangerous antibiotic resistant infections."

Read more about reducing hospital acquired infections

The CDC says that an estimated 17,000 children ages 1-17 get C. diff infections each year. These infections are increasing annually.

C. diff traditionally impacted older adults in hospital settings, but most recently, the infection has been spreading to younger and healthier patients. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria in the body, making it easier for bacterial infections such as C. diff, to thrive.

Image: Jim Champion

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Sara Novak specializes in health and food policy writing for Discovery Health. Her work has also been featured on TreeHugger, HowStuffWorks.com, TLC Cooking, and Animal Planet. After graduating from the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia, Sara headed up the communication efforts for a national scholarship program in Washington, D.C. Sara has also handled copy writing and public relations for a global environmental consulting firm. She loves fiddling with healthful recipes, traveling, and exploring life atop her yoga mat. Today, Sara lives in Charleston with her husband and two lovable cocker spaniels, Madison and Bella.