Giving Antibiotics to Babies Affects Gut Microbes – Study

A new study by health experts suggests that giving antibiotics to babies within the first week of life can lead to a decrease in the microbiome -the healthy bacteria in a baby. An important function of this microbiome is to help a baby digest milk.

Most newborn are giving broad-spectrum antibiotics to fight against a wide range of bacterial infections. This overprescription practice is done to ensure early treatment of those who are suspected to have infection, as delay can be life-threatening.

But experts believe that most of the antibiotics are unnecessary, as most of the babies treated are found to be without the infections. The researcher team from the University of Edinburgh and Birmingham, Spaarne Hospital, and University Medical Centre Utrecht, in a clinical trial with 227 babies, studied how antibiotics can affect a baby’s microbiome.

147 of the newborn with suspected sepsis received one of three standard antibiotics, while 80 babies without any observed infections were not given antibiotics. The rectal or faecal samples of the babies were taken before treatment, and then at different intervals – one, four, and 12 months of age, during treatment.

On observation of the results, the babies who receive antibiotics have decreased levels of Bifidobacterium species, while babies who did not receive any antibiotics have higher levels. 251 out of 695 bacterial species studied were observed to change the balance between good and bad bacteria, favouring the more harmful microbes.

Three antibiotics combinations were used – penicillin and gentamicin, co-amoxiclav and gentamicin, amoxicillin and cefotaxime. It was observed that the combination of penicillin and gentamicin combination caused a less decrease in the microbiome of the baby’s gut. Amoxicillin and cefotaxime combination led to a more significant reduction.

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The researchers suggest that with this data, the combination of penicillin and gentamicin should be prescribed.

Bifidobacterium species are microbiomes that help to digest breast milk in babies. They also improve gut functions and strengthen the immune system. The decrease in microbiomes can lead to drug resistance. The study proved this as they observed multidrug-resistant bacteria- klebsiella, and enterococcus species in the babies after the treatment with antibiotics.

Source: Nature Communications

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