ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – Inappropriately prescribed antibiotics cause serious medical conditions for children and result in at least $74 million in excess health care costs in the United States, according to a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says antibiotics “ONLY treat certain infections caused by bacteria,” they remain a common prescription for children.

“There is a general sense that antibiotics are benign, but, in fact, antibiotics are not benign,” said Dr. Anne Mobley Butler, an epidemiologist and assistant professor of infectious diseases at Washington University.

Past studies looked at a few hundred children and their antibiotic use, while Washington University researchers looked at 2.8 million children in the U.S. They examined insurance company claims to determine the cost of excess care and the negative side effects on children.

“The children who received inappropriate antibiotics had a higher risk of several complications, including skin rash, diarrhea … and a dangerous intestinal infection,” Butler said.

Children prescribed unsuitable antibiotics in outpatient settings such as doctors’ offices and urgent care centers were up to eight times more likely to develop complications.

“For influenza, we only saw about 4% of children receive antibiotics inappropriately,” Butler said. “For bronchitis, we saw that 70% of children received antibiotics inappropriately.”

The bottom line is twofold: More education on guidelines for prescribing antibiotics is needed for doctors and health care professionals in outpatient settings, and parents need to question pediatricians about their prescriptions

“When parents bring their children to the pediatrician’s office with a common bacterial or viral infection, they should feel empowered to ask questions and say ‘my understanding is that we don’t need antibiotics for viral infection,'” Butler said.

Many hospitals have stewardship programs for doctors and health care workers to learn about the appropriate use of antibiotics. Such programs are not as common in outpatient settings.

The CDC says there are some common bacterial infections that don’t need antibiotics, including many sinus infections and some ear infections, because those ailments typically get better on their own.

“Taking antibiotics when they’re not needed won’t help you, and their side effects can still cause harm,” the CDC said.