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College of Pharmacy

    Young children’s antibiotic exposure associated with higher food allergy risk

    Antibiotic treatment within a child’s first year of life may wipe out more than an unwanted infection: exposure to the drugs is associated with an increase in food allergy diagnosis, new research from the University of South Carolina suggests.

    Analyzing South Carolina Medicaid data from 2007 to 2009, a team of USC researchers examined data from about 1,500 children with a food allergy diagnosis and about 6,000 children without food allergy diagnosis. Using statistical modeling, they adjusted their findings for factors that could also influence the data, such as type of birth, mother’s age and whether a child had other medical conditions such as asthma or eczema.

    The researchers found that children who are prescribed antibiotics within the first year of life were 1.21 times more likely to be diagnosed with food allergy than children who hadn’t received an antibiotic prescription.

    The odds of a food allergy diagnosis increased with the number of antibiotic prescriptions a child received, with children who received five or more prescriptions having a 1.64 times greater risk of food allergy diagnosis than children who were not prescribed antibiotics.

    In addition, children who were prescribed stronger types of antibiotics had a greater risk of a food allergy diagnosis compared with children prescribed other antibiotics such as penicillins. The study was published recently in the journal “Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology.”

    This research builds upon previous studies finding that normal levels and types of bacteria in the gut are critical for developing the body’s tolerance to foreign proteins such as food. Antibiotics, however, can change the composition of gut bacteria, and young American children receive more than two antibiotic prescriptions per year on average, according to research.

    The study’s results suggest a potential link between the rise in antibiotic prescriptions for young children and the rise in diagnosis of food allergies in children, now estimated to affect between 4 percent and 8 percent of U.S. children.

    Given the study’s findings and the body of research suggesting that antibiotics are frequently improperly prescribed to treat viral infections, lead researcher Bryan Love, clinical associate professor at the College of Pharmacy, said that prescribing medical professionals should be cautious before ordering antibiotics for young children. He noted, however, that it can be difficult to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections.

    “We need better diagnostic tools to help identify kids who truly need antibiotics,” he said. “Overusing antibiotics invites more opportunity for side effects, including the potential development of food allergies, and can encourage antibacterial resistance.”

    The research team is currently analyzing data from multiple states to determine if their findings hold in a larger patient population.

    Other current and former University of South Carolina researchers involved in this study include Joshua R. Mann, James W. Hardin, Z. Kevin Lu, Christina Cox and David J. Amrol.

    The full text of the study can be found at:

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