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Antibiotic Usage in Babies Linked to Asthma

The opening remarks of an article from the October 1, 2003 BBC News states, "Babies given antibiotics are more likely to develop asthma and other allergies, research suggests." The article reports on research done at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Senior researcher and epidemiologist, Dr. Christine Cole Johnson, studied 448 children, whose development was tracked for the first seven years of their lives. The children were studied to see if there was any relationship between the early usage of antibiotics and the onset of Asthma or Allergies.

Assessing the children repeatedly, the research team noticed several interesting findings. By the age of seven, children who were given at least one antibiotic in the first six months of their lives were found to be:

  • 1.5 times more likely to develop allergies by age seven than those who did not receive antibiotics and 2.5 times more likely to develop asthma.
  • 1.7 times more likely to develop allergies, and three times more likely to develop asthma, if they lived in those early years with fewer than two pets.
  • nearly twice as likely to develop allergies if their mother had a history of allergies.
  • oddly enough, but children were nearly twice as likely to develop allergies if they were also breast-fed for more than four months, when combined with taking antibiotics.

Interestingly, babies who were breastfed for more than four months, and who received antibiotics in their first six months were three times more likely to develop allergies, although they were no more likely to develop asthma. Also, interesting was the result that exposure to pets seemed to have a protective effect. Those given antibiotics who lived in a family with fewer than two pets had 1.7 times the risk of allergies and three times the risk of asthma. However, when a family had two or more pets, the risk of allergies or asthma for the child was back to normal levels.

The biggest risk of all - an 11-fold increase - was found among children who were prescribed a broad-spectrum antibiotic, such as penicillin, were breastfed for four months, and did not have any family pets. The researchers also found evidence that the more courses of antibiotics a child received during their first six months, the higher was their risk of developing an allergy.

"I believe we need to be more prudent in prescribing them for children at such a young age," said Dr. Christine Cole Johnson. "In the past, many of them were prescribed unnecessarily, especially for viral infections like colds and flus when they would have no effect anyway."

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