As a result of overuse, antibiotics for humans and animals around the world are becoming ineffective in treating common infections in infants and children due to high rates of resistance to the drugs.
Researchers at Australia’s University of Sydney found that many antibiotics recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) were ineffective in treating more than half of children with pneumonia, sepsis (bloodstream infections), and meningitis.
They urged that global guidelines on antibiotic use be updated. The most recent WHO guidelines on the subject were released a decade ago.
The most seriously affected regions are in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including nearby Indonesia and the Philippines, where thousands of unnecessary deaths in children resulting from antibiotic resistance occur each year.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the top 10 global public health threats facing mankind.
In newborns, an estimated three million cases of sepsis occur globally each year, with up to 570,000 deaths – many due to a lack of effective antibiotics to treat resistant bacteria.
Antimicrobial resistance is a larger problem for children than adults
AMR is a larger problem for children than adults because new antibiotics are much less likely to be tested clinically for, and made available to, children and infants.
The meta-analysis, published in Lancet Southeast Asia under the title “Coverage gaps in empiric antibiotic regimens used to treat serious bacterial infections in neonates and children in Southeast Asia and the Pacific,” adds to growing evidence that common bacteria responsible for sepsis and meningitis in children are often resistant to prescribed antibiotics.
They analyzed 6,648 bacterial isolates from 11 low and middle-income countries across 86 publications to review antibiotic susceptibility for common bacteria causing childhood infections.
The study found that the drug ceftriaxone was likely to be effective in treating only one in three cases of sepsis or meningitis in newborn babies.
The antibiotic has also been widely used in Australia to treat pneumonia and urinary tract infections in children.
Another one, named gentamicin, was found likely to be effective in treating fewer than half of all pediatric cases of sepsis and meningitis cases.
Gentamicin is commonly prescribed alongside aminopenicillins, which the study showed also has low effectiveness in combating bloodstream infections in babies and children.
Lead author Dr. Phoebe Williams from the university’s School of Public Health and Sydney Infectious Diseases Institute is an expert in the field. Her research focuses on reducing AMR in high-burden healthcare settings in Southeast Asia. She added that the study should be a wake-up call for the whole world.
“Antibiotic resistance is rising more rapidly than we realize. We urgently need new solutions to stop invasive multidrug-resistant infections and the needless deaths of thousands of children each year. The best way to tackle antibiotic resistance in childhood infections is to make funding to investigate new antibiotic treatments for children and newborns a priority,” she concluded.