The NYTimes had an interesting article “Antibiotics Are a Gift to be Handled with Care,” a couple of months ago. It reports that children given antibiotics before they were 6 months old were 22% more likely to be overweight at age 3. Said simply, give a child antibiotics at, say, 3 months old, and 2+ years later that child has a significant risk of being overweight.
When the adjacent paragraph pointed out that (as we all know) livestock are often fed antibiotics to increase weight gain, I realized I should not have been surprised.
In the right circumstances, bad news turns into good news. A study out of Malawi (reported in NYTimes: Malnourished Gain Lifesaver in Antibiotics) shows antibiotics added to peanut butter-based “therapeutic food” caused malnourished children to gain weight faster and increased survival rate compared to malnourished children given the same “therapeutic food” without the antibiotics.
Antibiotics (amoxicillin and cefdinir were both tested) are cheap. The benefits of adding antibiotics to “therapeutic food” for malnutrition care is so striking that it is likely to be recommended by the World Health Organization very quickly.
Back to antibiotics for sick (not malnourished) children. There is now a link being drawn between infant use of antibiotics (under age 1) and inflammatory bowel disease as an adult. Antibiotics are one of medicine’s most important tools. When needed, they save lives. These long-term effects aren’t great, but if the alternative is a risk of death, there is no question what the answer will be.