Letters to the Editor

Antibiotics Usually Inappropriate in Children with Gastroenteritis


Am Fam Physician. 2012 Dec 15;86(12):1096.

Original Article: Gastroenteritis in Children: Part II. Prevention and Management

Issue Date: June 1, 2012

Available at: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0601/p1066.html

to the editor: The use of antibiotics was not mentioned in this article. Unfortunately, antimicrobial therapy is often used inappropriately in acute enteric infections. Gastroenteritis in children usually is infectious and often caused by viruses.1 Despite this, antibiotics are prescribed to 8 percent of outpatients one to 18 years of age with acute gastroenteritis, whereas stool cultures are performed in only 3 percent.2 In another study of emergency and urgent care visits in children, 24 percent of visits for acute diarrheal illness resulted in antibiotic prescriptions.3

Antibiotics can be useful in the treatment of Shigella or Campylobacter infection, if started within two days of symptom onset, but are not usually indicated for Salmonella infection, and are not effective against toxin-mediated illnesses or viral infections. Clinically, it is difficult to distinguish between viral and bacterial causes of acute gastroenteritis; hence, initial treatment decisions are largely empiric. Not only are antimicrobials not effective against most causes of diarrhea, they can also worsen the course of illness. Inappropriate antimicrobial use can lead to adverse outcomes, increased costs, and antimicrobial resistance.4 Use of antibiotics can substantially increase the risk of hemolytic uremic syndrome following infection with Escherichia coli O157:H7.5 Antibiotics do not improve the course of most noninvasive Salmonella infections, but can markedly prolong excretion of the pathogen.4 It is imperative that physicians limit the use of antimicrobials without laboratory confirmation of the etiology of an acute episode of diarrhea. Antibiotics are not indicated for most mild or moderate episodes, and if antimicrobial treatment is being contemplated, stool cultures should be performed.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations to disclose.


show all references

1. Churgay CA, Aftab Z. Gastroenteritis in children: part I. Diagnosis. Am Fam Physician. 2012;85(11):1059–1062....

2. Carpenter LR, Pont SJ, Cooper WO, et al. Stool cultures and antimicrobial prescriptions related to infectious diarrhea. J Infect Dis. 2008;197(12):1709–1712.

3. Beatty ME, Griffin PM, Tulu AN, Olsen SJ. Culturing practices and antibiotic use in children with diarrhea. Pediatrics. 2004;113(3 pt 1):628–629.

4. Devasia RA, Varma JK, Whichard J, et al. Antimicrobial use and outcomes in patients with multidrug-resistant and pansusceptible Salmonella newport infections, 2002–2003. Microb Drug Resist. 2005;11(4):371–377.

5. Wong CS, Mooney JC, Brandt JR, et al. Risk factors for the hemolytic uremic syndrome in children infected with Escherichia coli O157:H7: a multivariable analysis. Clin Infect Dis. 2012;55(1):33–41.

Send letters to afplet@aafp.org, or 11400 Tomahawk Creek Pkwy., Leawood, KS 66211-2680. Include your complete address, e-mail address, and telephone number. Letters should be fewer than 400 words and limited to six references, one table or figure, and three authors.

Letters submitted for publication in AFP must not be submitted to any other publication. Possible conflicts of interest must be disclosed at time of submission. Submission of a letter will be construed as granting the AAFP permission to publish the letter in any of its publications in any form. The editors may edit letters to meet style and space requirements.

This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



Copyright © 2012 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions


Mar 15, 2020

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article