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Test Could Curb Unnecessary Antibiotic Use in Kids

Author: Anne Blaschke

When a doctor diagnoses a child with pneumonia, all too often the default is to prescribe antibiotics. And yet, pneumonia in children is often caused by viruses — and viruses don’t respond to antibiotics. Considering that antibiotics can cause serious side effects and overuse causes microbes to become resistant to the life-saving drugs, finding ways to curb the prescribing spree has become a public health priority.

Anne Blaschke




To make a dent in the problem, Stockman et al., set out to find a rapid test that could tell physicians whether or not a child’s pneumonia is caused by bacterial infection. The investigators tested blood from 532 children with proven pneumonia and measured levels of procalcitonin, a compound produced by the body in response to bacterial infection. They found that children with only trace amounts of procalcitonin in their blood did not have a bacterial pneumonia, suggesting the measurement could be used to rule out the need for antibiotics. This test has previously been shown to predict bacterial pneumonia in adults, and these findings demonstrate that it can also inform treatment decisions for children.