Antibiotic Use: Yet Another Threat?

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The issue of increasing antibiotic resistance has become a serious global threat. The World Health Organization proclaimed that World Health Day 2011 would be dedicated to a comprehensive consolidated strategy to prevent regression to a preantibiotic era when infections were the single leading causes of death. At the 2013 G8 summit, the health ministers of the 8 wealthiest nations in the world proclaimed that antibiotic resistance is the single biggest threat to health security facing the 21st century. In addition to the problem of resistance, the use of antibiotics can lead to long-lasting alterations in the gut flora, making posttraumatic septicemia due to enteric organisms difficult to manage. Antibiotic use also has been associated with the development of inflammatory bowel disease in a number of well-done studies. Acute antibiotic side effects have included dyschromia, photosensitivity, potential hepatic and/or renal dysfunction, gastrointestinal tract distress, and various cutaneous events ranging from morbilliform eruptions to hives and even toxic epidermal necrolysis. All of the foregoing begs for more rational, appropriate, and circumspect use of antibiotic medications by all health care providers.

If the preceding commentary didn’t catch your attention, perhaps the findings from a recent article published online in the British Journal of Dermatology will. In this thoughtful and comprehensive review, a meta-analysis was performed on 20 large-scale observational studies involving individuals aged 0 to 25 years, which assessed the impact of antibiotic exposure in utero or within the first year of life on the subsequent risk for developing eczema. Both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies demonstrated a consistently increased risk (odds ratio, 1.4) of developing atopic eczema associated with postnatal antibiotic exposure. In fact, this association was so reliable that a dose-response association could be determined, suggesting a 7% increased risk for eczema for each additional oral or parenteral antibiotic course received during the first year of life. Why this effect happens remains uncertain, but the association is clear.

What’s the issue?

Think about your use of antibiotics! Do you use open-ended and prolonged courses for acne, rosacea, hidradenitis suppurativa, dissecting cellulitis of the scalp, and other conditions in adults? Are you contributing to the ever-expanding pool of antibiotic-resistant microbes carried by the adult population? When you do utilize antibiotics, do you always verify the presence of infection by culture? Do you always obtain sensitivities on bacterial isolates? Do you explicitly admonish antibiotic recipients or their parents/guardians to finish the antibiotic course and not save or share? This recent article now makes concerns about antibiotic use early in life highly relevant. Do you treat impetigo, for example, with one of the several approved topical agents or still routinely administer oral antibiotics? How would you manage neonatal acne or furunculosis in a young child? This paper from the British Journal of Dermatology supplies us with yet another good reason to evaluate and refine our own prescribing habits when it comes to antibiotics.

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