Antibiotic medication and bacterial resistance to antibiotics: a survey of children in a Vietnamese community


correspondence Mattias Larsson, IHCAR, Karolinska Institutet, 17176 Stockholm, Sweden. Fax: 46 8 311590; E-mail:


Summaryobjective  To investigate antibiotic use and antibiotic susceptibility of respiratory tract pathogens in children aged 1–5 years in Bavi, Vietnam.

method  Nasopharynx and throat specimens were collected from 200 children from randomly selected households in a demographically defined population. Respiratory isolates were tested for antibiotic susceptibility according to the standard disk diffusion method. A questionnaire survey of carers elicited information on type of antibiotic used, duration of treatment, where the antibiotics had been purchased, type of treatment information retained by carers and episodes of illness preceding the study.

results  82% of the children had at least one symptom of acute respiratory tract infection (ARI) in the 4 weeks prior to the study, and of these 91% were treated with antibiotics. The most commonly used antibiotics were ampicillin (74%), penicillin (12%), amoxicillin (11%), erythromycin (5%), tetracycline (4%) and streptomycin (2%). Ampicillin was used for 3.3 days on average (SD:1.8) and penicillin for 2.6 days (SD:0.7). When deciding which antibiotic to use, 67% of the carers consulted the pharmacy seller, 11% decided themselves and 22% followed the doctor's prescription. The carrier rate of Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrhalis was 50%, 39% and 17%, respectively. Isolates from 145 children were susceptibility tested, and 74% were found to carry resistant pathogens. Of the tested isolates, 90% of S. pneumoniae, 68% of H. influenzae and 74% of M. catarrhalis were resistant to at least one antibiotic. The mean number of antibiotics (susceptible strains excluded) to which resistance was found was 2.0 (SD:1.2), 2.5 (SD:1.8) and 2.1 (SD:0.9), respectively. S. pneumoniae and H. influenzae showed high resistance to tetracycline (88% and 32%, respectively), trimethoprim/sulphonamide (32% and 44%), and chloramphenicol (25% and 24%). 23% of S. pneumoniae were erythromycin-resistant and 18% of H. influenzae isolates were resistant to ampicillin. There was a significant difference in ampicillin and penicillin resistance between the group of children previously treated with beta lactam antibiotics and the group of children who did not receive antibiotics.

conclusion  As reported by the carers, children in Bavi are treated with antibiotics frequently. Most antibiotics were obtained without consulting a doctor. High levels of antibiotic resistance and high prevalence of multidrug-resistant strains were found among respiratory pathogens. The existence of a large reservoir of resistance genes among children in low-income countries represents a threat to the success of antibiotic therapy throughout the world. Multi-faceted programmes to improve rational use of antibiotics in Vietnam are urgently needed.