By: Genelle Weule for ABC.
Some types of antibiotics may alter the gut biology of young children for up to two years after they have taken them, according to a study of Finnish children.
The use of these antibiotics, known as macrolides, was also associated with an increased risk of developing asthma and becoming overweight, reported a group of researchers in the journal Nature Communications.
“Our results … indicate that macrolide use may have undesired effects on the developing microbiota [ecological community of microorganisms] of children, which may compromise the development of a healthy immune system and metabolism,” they wrote.
Professor Willem de Vos of Wageningen University and his colleagues analysed the bacteria in faeces samples from 142 children aged between two and seven that attended a Finnish day care centre.
The samples were matched with details of any antibiotics that had been prescribed to the children for respiratory infections, their body mass index and allergy information.
The two most prescribed groups of antibiotics were penicillin and macrolides such as azithromycin.
The researchers found the use of macrolide antibiotics, but not penicillins, was associated with marked changes in the richness and balance of gut microbiota.
The gut flora of children treated with this type of antibiotic took between one to two years to fully recover — which was longer than the average time between courses of drugs prescribed to the children.
Type of antibiotic is important
Dr Laura Weyrich of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at Adelaide University said the study is the first to show that antibiotic use is associated with long-term health effects in children.
“There’s been so much research over the past five years showing that antibiotic use has been correlated with disease but it’s been done in mice,” said Dr Weyrich, who studies how microbiomes change.
She said the study highlighted differences between penicillin and the more potent macrolides.
“So not only antibiotics in general are important but it’s showing the type of antibiotics we are administering is important,” she said.