Treatment for viruses varies for children with different racial and ethnic backgrounds

A study has revealed racial and ethnic differences in the prescription of antibiotics to children with viral infections in emergency departments across the US.

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As reported in Pediatrics, non-Latino white children with viral infections were twice as likely to be prescribed an antibiotic unnecessarily, compared with non-Latin black children or Latino children.

Lead author of the study, Monika Goyal (Director of research in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children's National Health System), says that since antibiotics are ineffective at treating viral infections, it is encouraging that only 2.6% of children treated in the emergency departments are prescribed an antibiotic, but that it is “troubling” to see that racial and ethnic differences persist in the prescription of the medication.

For the study, Goyal and team analysed electronic health data for the year 2013 across seven geographically diverse pediatric emergency departments that covered almost 40,000 cases of the viral infections.

The results showed that of the patients (aged a mean of 3.3 years), 4.3% of non-Latino white children received antibiotics while in the department or on discharge, whereas only 2.6% of Latino patients and 1.9% of non-Latino black patients received such treatment.

Goyal says several studies have shown racial and ethnic disparities in how children are treated in US pediatric emergency departments, including the frequency of computed tomography (CT) scans for head trauma, pain management and the laboratory and radiological tests that are performed.

“Unfortunately, today's results provide further evidence of racial and ethnic differences in providing health care in the ED setting," she says. "Although, in this case, minority children received evidence-based care, more study is needed to explain why differences in care exist at all."

Goyal and team suggest that future research explores the reasons for these differences in antibiotic prescribing, saying it may be as simple as parents or providers believing that “more is better,” even though the unnecessary prescription of antibiotics poses clear public health risks.

“An intervention that educates parents and providers about appropriate antibiotic use could help the pediatric patients we care for today as well as in the future," she adds.

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