Antibiotic prescribing for children with colds, upper respiratory tract infections, and bronchitis

JAMA. 1998 Mar 18;279(11):875-7. doi: 10.1001/jama.279.11.875.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Bronchitis / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Common Cold / drug therapy*
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Services Misuse
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Pediatrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / drug therapy*
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents