Context: The spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is associated with antibiotic use. Children receive a significant proportion of the antibiotics prescribed each year and represent an important target group for efforts aimed at reducing unnecessary antibiotic use.
Objective: To evaluate antibiotic-prescribing practices for children younger than 18 years who had received a diagnosis of cold, upper respiratory tract infection (URI), or bronchitis in the United States.
Design: Representative national survey of practicing physicians participating in the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey conducted in 1992 with a response rate of 73%.
Setting: Office-based physician practices.
Participants: Physicians completing patient record forms for patients younger than 18 years.
Main outcome measures: Principal diagnoses and antibiotic prescriptions.
Results: A total of 531 pediatric office visits were recorded that included a principal diagnosis of cold, URI, or bronchitis. Antibiotics were prescribed to 44% of patients with common colds, 46% with URIs, and 75% with bronchitis. Extrapolating to the United States, 6.5 million prescriptions (12% of all prescriptions for children) were written for children diagnosed as having a URI or nasopharyngitis (common cold), and 4.7 million (9% of all prescriptions for children) were written for children diagnosed as having bronchitis. After controlling for confounding factors, antibiotics were prescribed more often for children aged 5 to 11 years than for younger children (odds ratio [OR], 1.94; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.13-3.33) and rates were lower for pediatricians than for nonpediatricians (OR, 0.57; 95% CI, 0.35-0.92). Children aged 0 to 4 years received 53% of all antibiotic prescriptions, and otitis media was the most frequent diagnosis for which antibiotics were prescribed (30% of all prescriptions).
Conclusions: Antibiotic prescribing for children diagnosed as having colds, URIs, and bronchitis, conditions that typically do not benefit from antibiotics, represents a substantial proportion of total antibiotic prescriptions to children in the United States each year.