ST. LOUIS – A new study from Washington University in St. Louis says inappropriate antibiotics cause serious medical conditions for children, resulting in at least $74 million in excess health care costs in the United States.

Antibiotics are a common prescription for children.

“There is a general sense that antibiotics are benign but, in fact, antibiotics are not benign,” said Dr. Anne Mobley Butler, an epidemiologist and assistant professor of infectious diseases at Washington University.

Past studies looked at a few hundred children and their antibiotic use but Washington University researchers looked at 2.8 million children in the U.S. They examined insurance company claims to determine the cost of excess care and the negative side effects on children.

“The children who received inappropriate antibiotics had a higher risk of several complications including skin rash diarrhea and a dangerous intestinal infection,” Butler said.

Children who were prescribed unsuitable antibiotics in outpatient settings such as doctors’ offices and urgent care centers were up to eight times more likely to develop complications.

“For influenza, we only saw about 4% of children receive antibiotics inappropriately for bronchitis we saw that 70% of children received antibiotics inappropriately,” Butler said.

The bottom line of the study is more education for doctors and health care professionals in outpatient settings about guidelines for prescribing antibiotics and parents should question pediatricians about their prescriptions

“When parents bring their children to the pediatrician’s office with a common bacterial or viral infection, they should feel empowered to ask questions and say my understanding is that we don’t need antibiotics for viral infection,” Butler said.

Many hospitals have stewardship programs for doctors and health care workers to learn about the appropriate use of antibiotics. Such programs are less common in outpatient settings.