A new study published in the British Journal of General Practice has reported that childhood antibiotic exposure has important clinically relevant implications, including disruption to the microbiome, antibiotic resistance, and clinical workload manifesting as treatment ‘failure’.

The cohort study, which used UK primary care data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, 2009 to 2016, found that out of 114 329 children who were prescribed an antibiotic course for acute RTI, children who received ≥2 antibiotic courses for acute RTIs in the preceding year had greater odds of response failure, and that many antibiotic courses that do not benefit children are being prescribed for self-limiting acute respiratory tract infections (RTIs) in the community.

The data also revealed that at least 30% of antibiotics prescribed in outpatient settings in the US, and between 9% and 23% in UK primary care are unnecessary.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs responded to the research, saying that GPs are “acutely aware of the potential dangers of prescribing of antibiotics when they are not absolutely necessary”, and also how it can “contribute to growing resistance to these important drugs, which is a global concern.”

She continued, “This research drives home how important it is for patients – and particularly the parents of young children – to understand that antibiotics do not work for every infection and should not be prescribed for the most common childhood conditions such as colds, coughs, ear infections or sort throats which are usually caused by viruses.”

Antibiotic resistance poses an “enormous risk to our NHS”, according to public health minister, Seema Kennedy. The data comes shortly after the UK Government announced the renewal of its ambition to tackle deadly antibiotic resistance in the UK.

The pledge includes the appointment of a global expert alongside the millions of capital funding for UK-led research, with outgoing chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, as UK special envoy on antimicrobial resistance.

If left unchecked, antimicrobial resistance could cause as many as 10 million deaths per year by 2050, as found in a UN report.