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Antibiotic Overuse Unlikely to Change

Child

Alison O’Leary Murray
February 04, 2011

A link between early exposure to unnecessary antibiotics and the development of childhood asthma is unlikely to change Americans’ use of the drugs, say experts associated with Emerson’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

“We’ve reached a crisis point in this country, and in many other places in the world, with our overuse of antibiotics,” said Timothy Edgar, PhD, associate professor and Graduate Program Director for the Health Communication program. “The word ‘antibiotic’ has, unfortunately, taken on the status of a metaphor for any pill that will make one well. As a result, people believe that the first line of attack to deal with most everyday illnesses, including the common cold, is to ask one’s physician for an antibiotic prescription. Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections, but it’s tough to get people to believe that the ‘miracle drug’ has limited use.”

“We’ve reached a crisis point in this country, and in many other places in the world, with our overuse of antibiotics.... Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections, but it’s tough to get people to believe that the ‘miracle drug’ has limited use.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood asthma rates doubled from the 1980s to the 1990s, and remain at alarmingly high levels, prompting trips to emergency rooms and limiting normal physical exertion. The recent link between antibiotic overuse and childhood asthma was published in the December 29, 2010 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. The Yale School of Public Health also published a similar report.

In her DNA and Society class, Assistant Professor Amy Vashlishan Murray, PhD has students test the impact of cleaning products or hand-soap with and without antibiotics on bacteria growth, and/or culture bacteria from surfaces around campus or surfaces of household goods embedded with antibiotics. This allows them to identify strains that are resistant to a particular antibiotic. They also learn that antibiotics aren’t necessary to get things clean and that overuse is problematic.

Dr. Anibal Sosa, microbiologist and director of International Chapter Programs for the Tufts University Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, said he hoped the asthma-antibiotic link would scare parents away from demanding antibiotics from pediatricians, but he doubts it will happen. “When they have a child who is ill, a parent will do anything” and is unlikely to return for a second appointment to determine if a bacterial infection is present before demanding an antibiotic prescription.

While Norway successfully eliminated overuse of antibiotics by severely limiting access to the drugs, Edgar believes that the same tactic could never work in the United States. He explained, “The Norwegian restriction had a greater chance of success from the start because of the cultural norm long at play in that society that one should only take medicine of any type when absolutely necessary. The Norwegian success would take a long time to duplicate in this country. Just as we Americans love our cars, we also love our pharmaceuticals.”

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