Antibiotics are obviously very useful in the world of medicine, helping keep infections at bay and allowing patients to recover more quickly. In some cases, they are necessary to save a patient’s life. As with other good things, though, there comes a point where overuse of antibiotics can have potentially negative consequences. This, at least, is the concern among some medical professionals and medical researchers.
A recent study reported in Pediatrics looked at the issue of antibiotic use in neonatal intensive care units in the state of California. What was found was that the rate of antibiotic use varied significantly, with the majority of facilities demonstrating a 40-fold difference in the rate of use. This variability was seen to be independent of infection rates, suggesting that antibiotics may often be used out of habit rather than necessity.
The research is concerning because of the potential effects of overuse of antibiotics and the potential extent of overuse in facilities across the United States. Previous research has correlated antibiotic exposure with certain conditions among pre-term infants, and has theorized about the potential long-term effects.
One of the challenges with antibiotic use among neonates is that there is only a limited ability to determine when antibiotic use is appropriate for a newborn. At present, there is a need to establish standards for medical professionals to determine when antibiotics are appropriate a when they are not. Such a standard would help not only prevent overuse, but would help medical professionals better identify when they would be negligent for failing to use antibiotics.
Hopefully, as the research continues building, effective action will be taken to give greater clarity to practitioners and which helps patients understand when medical professionals did or did not act appropriately.