(CBS/AP) Health officials have been urging pediatricians to use caution when prescribing antibiotics, and a new government report suggests the doctors are listening. It showed that since the early 1990s, there's been a 10-percent drop in prescription rates for children age 14 or under.
The CDC found larger declines - about 25 percent - in how often doctors prescribe antibiotics for sore throats, colds and other upper respiratory infections. There was no major change in how often they gave the drugs for ear infection, bronchitis and sinusitis.
Some pediatricians give antibiotics for viral illnesses like colds and flu. But the drugs don't work against viruses - only against bacterial infections. And overuse of antibiotics contributes to a phenomenon known as antibiotic resistance, in which infectious germs become resistant to antibiotics. That makes the illnesses they cause harder to treat.
Experts say doctors inappropriately prescribe antibiotics more than 50 percent of the time, and more often with respiratory infections.
The new findings represent progress but suggest that doctors are still prescribing antibiotics too often, said CDC epidemiologist Dr. Lauri Hicks.
"The bad news is we still have a long way to go," she said.
The CDC study was the government's first look at the issue in about a decade. It was based on an annual survey of doctors' offices, and compared rates from 1993-1994 to 2007-2008.
The improvement could be partly driven by rapid diagnostic tests that help doctors pinpoint the cause of a sore throat, CDC researchers said. The study also found fewer parents took their kids to doctors for upper respiratory infections, which could be thanks to a vaccine against pneumococcal bacteria that became available in 2000.
A public health campaign about antibiotics may have also had some impact, CDC officials said.
Doctors have not always followed recommendations to cut back on antibiotics, partly because of pressure from parents, said Dr. Kenneth Bromberg, chairman of pediatrics at Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York.
Moms and dads who have been up with sick infants in the middle of the night tend to expect more from a doctor than advice to keep an eye on the problem. Often, they want antibiotics, and may not stop at one doctor to get them. Said Bromberg, "In this new age of consumerism, they will go somewhere else and get what they want."
The CDC has more on antibiotic resistance.