The microbes inside digestive tracts of healthy children have many antibiotic resistance genes, according to a recent study published in the Public Library of Sciences ONE journal. These genes may place the children at higher risk of developing resistance to antibiotic treatments.

“From birth to age 5, children receive more antibiotics than during any other five-year time span in their lives,” noted Gautam Dantas, PhD, lead author. “Frequent exposure to antibiotics accelerates the spread of antibiotic resistance. Our research highlights how important it is to only use these drugs when they are truly needed.”

The researchers analyzed microbial genomes of the microbes present in fecal samples from 22 children aged six months to 19 years. They were able to identify 2,500 new antibiotic resistance genes—30 percent more than were currently known—in this relatively small sample of individuals.

“There were quite a few resistance genes in microbes from every child we looked at. This was true even in children who were only six months old,” stated Dantas. They plan to study these children at multiple points throughout their lives. Antibiotic-resistant infections cause at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths each year (and that’s a conservative estimate according to the Centers for Disease Control).

I often highlight the latest news about antibiotic resistance because it’s an issue that needs to be taken more seriously. Although scientists have been warning of the detriments of antibiotic resistance since the 1940s, little has been done to change our course, which is headed toward the ineffectiveness of antibiotics, arguably the most important class of drugs ever created. Antibiotics need to be used only when necessary. Period.