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Do antibiotics have long-term side effects in children?

Research shows that frequent use of antibiotics in the first decade of life changes the bacterial profile in children’s saliva.

The human microbiota is made up of millions of cells, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, contributing to both your health and wellbeing. It is a vital part of various processes including, aiding in nutrient absorption, boosting the immune system, aiding digestion, and producing vitamins.

Antimicrobial drugs include antibiotics, antifungals, antiprotozoals, and antivirals. They are commonly used to treat infections but are known to affect the human microbiota. Saliva microbiota is connected with certain cancers, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, metabolic syndrome, and other conditions. Antimicrobial drugs have been found to alter and impair human microbiota. Previous research has focused on the effects of antimicrobial drugs on gut microbiota however, little is known about their effect on saliva microbiota.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki recently carried out a study to investigate the lifetime impact of antimicrobial drugs on saliva microbiota, comparing the lifetime effects by gender. Data was used from over 800 Finnish children who were part of the Finnish Health in Teens study, which included over 11,000 adolescents. On average, the children received 7.4 courses of antimicrobial drugs during their lifespan up to the age of 12 years. The most common antibiotics prescribed to children were Amoxicillin, azithromycin, amoxicillin-clavulanate, and phenoxymethylpenicillin.

Long-term side-effects of antibiotics in children

Published in Microbiome, the results show that the use of antibiotics in children was found to have long-term side effects on the saliva microbiota, shifting the bacterial profile. This might have unforeseen health impacts in the future.

The researchers reported both gender and antimicrobial drug dependent effects, with azithromycin having the strongest effect, especially in girls.  As a common antibiotic used for ear infections and strep throat, this highlights concerns for excessive use of Azithromycin. Amoxicillin was found to affect the saliva microbiota in boys more than girls.

The future impact of frequent antimicrobial drug use may include problems such as antibiotic resistance or inducing obesity, but further research is needed to establish any long term effects.

Written by Helen Massy, BSc.


Frequent use of antimicrobial drugs in early life shifts bacterial profiles in saliva. EurekAlert!. (2020). Retrieved 24 August 2020, from

Raju, S., Viljakainen, H., Figueiredo, R., Neuvonen, P., Eriksson, J., Weiderpass, E., & Rounge, T. (2020). Antimicrobial drug use in the first decade of life influences saliva microbiota diversity and composition. Microbiome, 8(1).

Image by Esi Grünhagen from Pixabay 



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