Nurseries Are Unnecessarily Requesting Children To Take Antibiotics For Conjunctivitis, Study Finds

'These policies lead to thousands of unnecessary prescriptions.'

06/07/2016 10:17 | Updated 06 July 2016

Nurseries are reportedly requiring children to take antibiotics if they have minor eye infections, a study has found.

For the study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, researchers at the University of Birmingham analysed sickness policies from 164 nursery schools in England, Scotland and Wales. 

They found 81 nurseries said children who had acute conjunctivitis must take antibiotics before returning to nursery. Only four nurseries said antibiotics were not needed.

According to the NHS, treatment isn't usually needed for conjunctivitis, because the symptoms often clear up within a couple of weeks.

It states: "If treatment is needed, the type of treatment will depend on the cause. In severe cases, antibiotic eye drops can be used to clear the infection".

"What we are seeing is a huge discrepancy between Public Health England guidelines and the policies of nurseries," Dr Samuel Finnikin, lead author from the University of Birmingham, said.

"These policies lead to unnecessary primary care consultations and thousands of unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics, not to mention the inconvenience for parents and children."

Natalie Kauffman via Getty Images

Of the nursery schools surveyed, 86.7% have policies to ask children with acute conjunctivitis to stay at home.

The study authors wrote: "There is little evidence of a clinically relevant effect of topical antibiotic treatment on acute infectious conjunctivitis in children, and no evidence that treatment or exclusion reduces the spread of conjunctivitis.

"Though topical chloramphenicol shortens the duration of symptoms by only 0.3 days, many clinicians prescribe antibiotics."

For the study, researchers also surveyed 200 GPs. 

They found 42.6% said their prescribing of antibiotics for conjunctivitis was "influenced by childcare provider policies" and 15.4% stated these policies were the "only reason for prescribing antibiotics".

Professor Kate Jolly, from the University of Birmingham, added: “Our survey of GPs suggests that the policies themselves can give parents an unrealistic view of the benefit of antibiotics.

"60.8% of parents believe that their child will not get better without the treatment. While that may be a worrying statistic, it also highlights that an intervention on a national level that helps childcare providers produce evidence-based policies could have significant benefits for all involved." 

For more information on the symptoms and treatment of conjunctivitis, visit the NHS website

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