A study discovered that due to increasing rates of antibiotic resistance, medications used to treat common diseases in infants and babies are no longer effective in large parts of the world.
According to a study led by the University of Sydney, many antibiotics recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed less than 50% efficacy in treating children's disorders such as pneumonia, sepsis (bloodstream infections), and meningitis. The findings show that global antibiotic guidelines are outdated and must be modified. The most badly affected areas are in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines, where antibiotic resistance kills thousands of children each year.
WHO identifies AMR as one of the top ten global public health threats
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been identified by the WHO as one of the top ten global public health risks facing humanity. Each year, an estimated three million episodes of sepsis in infants occur worldwide, with up to 570,000 deaths; many of these are caused by a lack of effective antibiotics to treat resistant bacteria.
The findings, published in the journal Lancet South East Asia, added to accumulating evidence that common bacteria causing sepsis and meningitis in children are frequently resistant to medications.
Ceftriaxone antibiotic, most frequently used
The study discovered that one antibiotic in particular, ceftriaxone, was likely to help treat only one out of every three instances of infant sepsis or meningitis. Ceftriaxone is also frequently used in Australia to treat various paediatric diseases, including pneumonia and urinary tract infections.
Gentamicin, another antibiotic, was shown to be likely successful in treating less than half of all sepsis and meningitis cases in children. Gentamicin is routinely used in conjunction with aminopenicillins, which the study found to be ineffective in treating bloodstream infections in newborns and children.
Multidrug-resistant bacterial illnesses becoming more common
Dr Phoebe Williams of the University of Sydney's School of Public Health and the Sydney Infectious Diseases Institute is an infectious disease specialist whose research focuses on lowering AMR in high-burden healthcare settings in Southeast Asia. Dr Phoebe Williams is also a clinician in Australia.
According to Dr Williams, multidrug-resistant bacterial illnesses in children are becoming more common worldwide. Children are more vulnerable to AMR than adults because new antibiotics are less likely to be tested on and made available to them. Dr Williams added that the study should serve as a wake-up call for the entire world, including Australia.
"We are not immune to this problem, the burden of anti-microbial resistance is on our doorstep," Dr Williams said. "Antibiotic resistance is rising more rapidly than we realise. We urgently need new solutions to stop invasive multidrug-resistant infections and the needless deaths of thousands of children each year." The study analysed 6,648 bacterial isolates from 11 countries across 86 publications to review antibiotic susceptibility for common bacteria causing childhood infections.
Expert suggest new antibiotic treatments
Dr Wiliams said the best way to tackle antibiotic resistance in childhood infections is to make funding to investigate new antibiotic treatments for children and newborns a priority. "Antibiotic clinical focus on adults and too often children and newborns are left out. That means we have very limited options and data for new treatments."
Dr Williams is currently looking into an old antibiotic, fosfomycin, as a temporary lifeline to treat multidrug-resistant urinary tract infections in children in Australia. She is also working with the WHO's Paediatric Drug Optimisation Committee to ensure children have access to antibiotics to treat multidrug-resistant infections as soon as possible to reduce deaths due to AMR among children.
Research reveals important problems
"This study reveals important problems regarding the availability of effective antibiotics to treat serious infections in children," says senior author Paul Turner, director of the Cambodia Oxford Medical Research Unit at Angkor Hospital for Children, Siem Reap and professor of paediatric microbiology at the University of Oxford, UK.
"It also highlights the ongoing need for high-quality laboratory data to monitor the AMR situation, which will facilitate timely changes to be made to treatment guidelines."