Antibiotics given to preterm infants can set them up for health problems later in life; research has shown, including allergies, psoriasis, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease. Researchers who conducted a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study have added to that body of knowledge with their finding that treating preterm infants with long-term antibiotics could have lasting effects by promoting multidrug-resistant gut bacteria.
They used high-speed DNA sequencing and advanced computational analysis to study stool samples from 32 infants born very preterm who received antibiotic treatment for 21 months in the hospital and after discharge, then compared those with results from 9 very preterm infants treated with antibiotics for > 1 week and 17 healthy term and late-term infants who had not received antibiotics.
The infants on long-term antibiotics had less diverse bacterial populations in their gut, and those bacteria contained more antibiotic-resistant genes.
Strikingly, the genomes of the high-antibiotic-use samples contained genes for resistance to antibiotics typically not given to newborns, such as ciprofloxacin and chloramphenicol. The researchers say this may mean that the genes originate in multidrug-resistant bacteria. Using a particular antibiotic may trigger resistance to other antibiotics even if they were not used.
“The collateral damage of early-life antibiotic treatment and hospitalization in preterm infants is long lasting,” the researchers say. They urge development of strategies to protect these highly vulnerable patients.