The number of American children developing infections from antibiotic resistant bacteria is increasing. A new study shows that more children, particularly toddlers, over the past 10 years have caught so-called superbugs that are not easy to treat.
The prevalence of uncommon drug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria is growing, according to a study published today in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society. These infections are still relatively rare, but can spread rapidly and require hospitalization. The study raises concerns about a lack of treatment options in the wake of this increase.
The researchers, led by Dr. Latania Logan at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center examined samples collected from 370,000 children from 1999 to 2011. They looked for antibiotic resistant bacteria called Enterobacteriaceae, which produces an enzyme (extended-spectrum beta lactamase) that does not respond to most antibiotics. The researchers also bound more resistance to cephalosporins, the class of antibiotics widely used to treat infections.
Though still uncommon, the prevalence of the bacteria increased from 0.28 percent in 1999 to 0.92 percent by 2011. Cephalosporin resistance increased from 1.4 percent to 3.0 percent over the same period. The trends were seen across all age groups, but half of the children with the resistance were 1 to 5 years old.
The numbers are still relatively low. However, the increasing number of antibiotic resistant infections is causing public health concerns about antibiotic use for children and in the overall population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report last year about the threat these “superbugs” pose. They cited overuse of antibiotics for inappropriate things like colds and flu as the leading cause of the resistance to antibiotics being developed in bacteria or other microbes. The antibiotics kill off some bacteria, but leave the resistant ones to multiply. The resistant bacteria become stronger. The CDC expressed fears that the drug-resistant bacteria can then be spread to family, classmates and others in the community and be difficult to cure. They typically lead to greater health care costs and longer hospital stays. The CDC reported in 2013 that more than two million Americans get antibiotic resistant infections each year, costing $20 billion in direct health care costs and resulting in approximately 23,000 deaths annually.
While the relative occurrence of superbugs is low, their emergence is a cause for concern. They are finding that more infections that used to be treated with an antibiotic prescription at home are now requiring hospitalization and intravenous drugs. As Dr. Logan noted, the drug-resistant bacteria used to be found in health care settings, but are now being found out in the community.
The study recommends a shift in treatment approach. Logan indicated that more cultures should be obtained for bacterial infections. In addition, more research is needed to study the prevalence of antibiotic resistant strains in different settings, their molecular structure and the risk factors leading to increasing infections in children. Logan also noted that most drug research is conducted with adults and the increase in cases in toddlers should call for additional drug development with them in mind.
By Dyanne Weiss