paying attention to warnings that unnecessary use of antibiotics
can be harmful by creating drug-resistant bacteria.
Doctors wrote fewer antibiotic prescriptions for children at the
end of the 1990s than at the start of the decade, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention reported.
"Our survey suggests that physicians are getting the message
that overuse of antibiotics can be harmful," said Linda F. McCaig,
a survey statistician who will present the report to the Infectious
Diseases Society of America this weekend.
In 1995, the CDC and other medical groups began a campaign to
tell doctors and parents that when antibiotics are overused, they
kill harmless bacteria while the resistant bacteria thrive and
"Part of the focus of the campaign was to educate parents on
what kind of illnesses might be viral and don't need antibiotics.
So maybe more are staying home because they know it's a virus. Or
maybe they don't come in because they know the child wouldn't get
an antibiotic," McCaig said.
An annual survey of about 2,500 doctors shows that the
antibiotic prescription rate in the United States dropped 34
percent from 1989-90 to 1997-98 for children under the age of 15.
The drop was 12 percent when the CDC researchers compared the
rates only for children brought to a doctor's office because of an
earache, bronchitis, sore throat, sinus infection or upper
``This is very exciting,'' said Dr. Stuart Levy, president of
the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and director of
Tufts University's Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug
Resistance. ``The question will be, `Can it be continued?'''
The CDC has estimated that half of all antibiotics prescribed
during visits to doctors' offices are for colds or other viruses,
which cannot be treated by antibiotics.
That overuse is considered a major reason that more and more
germs have become resistant to antibiotics over the past decade or
Several antibiotics are now useless against germs they used to
kill. One-quarter of all germs that cause sinus, ear and blood
infections, pneumonia and some kinds of meningitis shrug off two or