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Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Breeding Supergerms

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Few threats worry public-health officials more than that of new strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Epidemiologists increasingly recognize that parents help to foster the emergence of such bacteria when they demand inappropriate prescription of antibiotics. And a new study out of Greece suggests that single parents are particularly likely to request such dubious prescriptions.

Conducted by pediatric researchers at the Universities of Thessaly and Athens, this new study focuses particularly on the use of antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) among children, infections that are “mainly due to viral infections” and therefore not—in general—appropriately treated with antibiotics. The researchers view this “antibiotic misuse” as a misapplication of medicine “contributing to the development of resistant strains of bacterial pathogens and placing a burden on the economy of the health care system.”

To identify the parents most likely to ask for such inappropriate antibiotics, the researchers parse data collected from 5,312 parents from across Greece, all with children ages five and six. These data indicate that “being a single parent” was “significantly associated to inadequate knowledge, inappropriate attitudes, and wrong practices” in the use of antibiotics for URTIs.

The Greek scholars comment at length on single parents’ inappropriate use of antibiotics: “Single parents [in this study] reported improper attitudes concerning antibiotic use. As it has also been acknowledged . . . it is more difficult to take care of a sick child in single-parent families, especially if other relatives are not available. Thus, one could speculate that single parents expect antibiotic treatment assuming that it will shorten disease duration . . . therefore allowing them to return to their workplace earlier.”

Understanding single parents’ mistakes in using antibiotics matters a good deal to the researchers. After all, they point out, “identification of factors influencing antimicrobial prescription in pediatric practice may have a considerable public health impact.”

The researchers consider single parents as one of “the main groups of parents that should be targeted in future intervention programs” designed to reduce misuse of antibiotics. And because the spread of microbes resistant to antibiotics has become a global problem, medical authorities have reason to worry about single parents.

(Sotiria G. Panagakou et al., “Risk Factors of Antibiotic Misuse for Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in Children: Results from a Cross-Sectional Knowledge-Attitude-Practice Study in Greece,” ISRN Pediatrics 2012: 685302.)