In a study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, researchers have uncovered three-way link among infant antibiotic use, gut bacteria changes and diseases later on in life.

Led by Pajau Vangay, a graduate student fellow from the University of Minnesota, researchers pointed out that diseases related to the immune system and metabolism have been increasing dramatically, and many times the reason is unknown. Previous studies have shown that antibiotic use and an imbalance in gut bacteria are related, and that this imbalance is connected to the development of adult disease.

"Over the past year, we synthesized hundreds of studies and found evidence of strong correlations between antibiotic use, changes in gut bacteria and disease in adulthood," said Dan Knights, also from the University of Minnesota and senior author for the study.

In the process, the researchers also came up with a predictive model showing the potential importance in clinical settings of measuring gut bacteria development in young children. For instance, they were able to demonstrate that allergies are connected to antibiotic use in that the medication eradicated key bacteria in the gut that would have helped certain cells mature, allowing them to keep the immune system under control in the presence of allergens. The bacteria may return as an individual grows, but the impairment the immune system has suffered is retained, leading to lasting effects.

The researchers were also able to examine how bacteria develops in the gut, revealing that it is possible to predict an infant's age within 1.3 months by observing how far along gut bacteria have matured. This discovery could help in the development of clinical tests and interventions for children with delayed microbiome development caused by antibiotic use and other factors.

Knights added that the results of their study may also be used in future research to help guide recommendations for antibiotic use, taking into consideration the effects of the medication before it is prescribed.

Aside from Vangay and Knights, Tonya Ward and Jeffrey Gerber also contributed to the study. Ward is from the University of Minnesota Biotechnology Institute, while Gerber is associated with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Antibiotic use is also a grave concern in adults today, with more than half of prescriptions in the United States inappropriate, contributing to the growing number of cases of resistance to the medication. Most patients taking antibiotics for the wrong reasons are those seeking treatment for acute respiratory infections. These are viral; antibiotics target bacteria.

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