Less than a fifth of U.S. children with sickle cell anemia are getting the antibiotics that could save their lives, a new study finds.

“Longstanding recommendations say children with sickle cell anemia should take antibiotics daily for their first five years of life,” the study’s lead author, Sarah Reeves, said in a news release from Michigan Medicine.

These antibiotics can protect the children against potentially deadly infections, Reeves said. She’s an epidemiologist with the Child Health Evaluation and Research Center at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Bacterial infections are a major health threat for children with sickle cell anemia, but taking daily antibiotics can reduce that risk by 84 percent, according to the study.

However, the researchers found that just 18 percent of children with the blood disorder were taking antibiotics daily.

The finding came from analysis of data from 2005 to 2012 on more than 2,800 children, 3 months to 5 years old, with sickle cell anemia. The children lived in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, South Carolina and Texas.

Sickle cell anemia — also called sickle cell disease — is the most common type of inherited blood disorder. In the United States, it mainly affects racial/ethnic minorities, and 1 in 375 black infants are diagnosed with the disease.

Without antibiotics, children with sickle cell anemia have a 100 times higher risk for bacterial infection and a 300 times higher risk for stroke than other children, according to the researchers. Infections can lead to serious conditions such as meningitis or even death.

The study did not examine why children with sickle cell anemia were not taking antibiotics. The researchers noted, though, that making this happen requires caregivers to pick up prescriptions every two weeks and also remember to give the medication to their child twice a day.

“Doctors need to repeatedly discuss the importance of taking antibiotics with families of children with sickle cell anemia,” Reeves said. “Social factors that may impact receiving filled prescriptions should also be considered, such as the availability of transportation and time to travel to pharmacies to pick up the prescriptions.

“The types of challenges involved in making sure children get the recommended dose of antibiotics is exacerbated by the substantial burden of care already experienced by families to help control the symptoms of this disease,” she said.

Making sure children get the antibiotics they need, Reeves said, requires a joint effort among health care providers, pharmacists and families.

The study was published online Feb. 5 in Pediatrics.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on sickle cell disease.

Source: HealthDay

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