To combat the trend of unnecessary, overuse of antibiotics, several health care providers have now adopted stewardship programs dedicated to controlling antibiotic prescriptions and treatment. Such programs have proven to be extremely beneficial, especially for hospitalized children, who stay infection-free for longer, according to a new study.

The study, the first to assess the benefits of such programs on the health of children, is being presented at IDWeek 2014TM, a forum for health professionals.

Health care professionals, have in the last few years, seen an unprecedented increase in antibiotic resistance cases. Several bugs are now immune to traditional first-line course of antibiotics. In such cases, physicians have to prescribe newer and costlier antibiotic regimens, increasing the overall cost of health care.

These are offshoots of over prescription of drugs. Research shows that more than half of antibiotics prescribed at hospitals are unnecessary or inappropriate, giving rise to antibiotic-resistant infections, which are difficult or impossible to treat. In an age when community-acquired infections are on the rise, overcoming antibiotic resistance is of paramount importance.

Currently, more than two million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant infections every year and 23,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotic stewardship programs, often headed by epidemiologists or infectious diseases physicians, have been designed to manage how and when antibiotics are being prescribed in hospitals and other health care facilities across the country.

"Studies have shown stewardship programs reduce antibiotic use and decrease the risk of antibiotic resistance, but this is the first to demonstrate that these programs actually reduce length of stay and readmission in children," said lead author Jason Newland, in a statement. "These findings reinforce the health benefits of antibiotic stewardship programs for some of our most vulnerable patients. It's clear that more hospitals should invest their resources in implementing such programs."

The study tracked the antibiotic stewardship program at Children's Mercy Hospital-Kansas City for five years. The program recommended that the prescribed antibiotic be discontinued or the dose or type of antibiotic be changed in 1,191 of 7,051 hospitalized children (17 percent). The child's physician had the option of accepting or rejecting the recommendation.

In most cases, the recommendation was to discontinue the antibiotic use, as the program felt it was unnecessary. Children who were treated as per the program, stayed in the hospital for shorter. Thirty-day admissions were reduced among children who did not have complex chronic care issues, such as cerebral palsy or congenital heart disease.

The length of stay averaged 68 hours, and there were no 30-day readmissions among children whose doctor followed the recommendation, while the length of stay averaged 82 hours. Patients whose doctor did not follow the recommendations saw a readmission rate of 3.5 percent in 30 days.

"Skeptics say stopping the antibiotics and sending the kids home sooner will lead to more children being readmitted, but we didn't find that," Newland said. "What we found was that kids were being taken off unnecessary antibiotics sooner — and in a safe manner."

Source: Newland J et al. Antibiotic Stewardship and Outcomes in Children, IDWeek 2014TM.