Common antibiotics could harm hearing in children

Aminoglycosides are a cheap and effective way of getting to grips with certain types of bacterial infection, but doctors have known for some time that they carry risks, and levels of the drug are normally monitored carefully. However, it appears that one in 500 children carry a gene which means that the drug can harm their hearing even at a normal dose.

Researchers at the Institute of Child Health (ICH) in London had wanted to know just how common the gene variation was, in order to work out whether it was realistic to test thousands of children about to be given the drugs.

These antibiotics are widely used on very sick children. Dr Maria Bitner-Glindzicz of the ICH believes that it will be cost effective to genetically screen groups of patients who will almost certainly receive aminoglycoside antibiotics, to see if they carry the mutation, before administering the antibiotics. The difficulty will be when the matter is clinically urgent, because of the time it currently takes to get the genetic results, so she also suggests screening pregnant women to see if they are carriers of the gene.

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First published in April 2009


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