The use of antibiotics was linked to an increased risk of cancer in a study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University, University of Pennsylvania and Nemours A.I. duPont Hospital for Children. Findings showed that children who were exposed to antibiotics were twice as likely to develop juvenile arthritis compared to those who were not. As additional courses of antibiotics were taken, the risk increased; the risk was strongest within one year of taking antibiotics. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers conducted the study in light of evidence suggesting that children may be more likely to develop chronic diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, when exposed to antibiotics. “Antibiotics are one of the better known disruptors of human microbial communities,” said lead author Daniel Horton, a postdoctoral research fellow working in the Department of Pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and biomedical informatics master’s degree candidate in the Rutgers School of Health Related Profession.
Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body mistakenly attacks its own cells. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4,300 to 9,700 children under the age of 16 are diagnosed with the disease each year. Juvenile arthritis causes chronic inflammation of the joints and eyes, leading to pain, vision loss and disability, according to Medical Xpress.
Horton and his colleagues gathered data using The Health Improvement Network (THIN) database. The researchers identified children with newly diagnosed juvenile arthritis and compared them to control subjects matched for age and gender. A total of 152 children were diagnosed with juvenile arthritis out of 450,000 children studied. There was an increased risk of developing the disease associated with antibiotic use after adjusting for other autoimmune conditions and previous infection.
Furthermore, the study showed that juvenile arthritis was more strongly linked to upper respiratory tract infections treated with antibiotics compared to untreated upper respiratory tract infections. “This is an extremely important clue about the etiology of this serious and potentially crippling disease. If confirmed, it also provides a means for preventing it,” said head author Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.
The overuse of antibiotics has become a growing health concern in recent years, with previous studies showing that they are often overprescribed. According to Medical Xpress, past research shows that about one quarter of antibiotics prescribed to children and half of antibiotics prescribed for acute respiratory infections are not necessary. “Our research suggests another possible reason to avoid antibiotic overuse for infections that would otherwise get better on their own,” said Horton.