High burden of infectious disease and antibiotic use in early life in Australian Aboriginal communities


Will Cuningham, Jodie McVernon, Michael J Lydeamore, Ross M Andrews, Jonathan Carapetis, Therese Kearns, Danielle Clucas, Roslyn Gundjirryirr Dhurrkay, Steven YC Tong, Patricia T Campbell

Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2019 43(2):149-155. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1753-6405.12876

OBJECTIVE: To quantify the childhood infectious disease burden and antibiotic use in the Northern Territory’s East Arnhem region through synthesis and analysis of historical data resources.

METHODS: We combined primary health clinic data originally reported in three separate publications stemming from the East Arnhem Healthy Skin Project (Jan-01 to Sep-07). Common statistical techniques were used to explore the prevalence of infectious conditions and the seasonality of infections, and to measure rates of antibiotic use.

RESULTS: There was a high monthly prevalence of respiratory (mean: 32% [95% confidence interval (CI): 20%, 34%]) and skin (mean: 20% [95%CI: 19%, 22%]) infectious syndromes, with upper respiratory tract infections (mean: 29% [95%CI: 27%, 31%]) and skin sores (mean: 15% [95%CI: 14%, 17%]) the most common conditions. Antibiotics were frequently prescribed with 95% (95%CI: 91%, 97%) of children having received at least one antibiotic prescription by their first birthday, and 47% having received six antibiotic prescriptions; skin sores being a key driver.

CONCLUSIONS: Early life infections drive high antibiotic prescribing rates in remote Aboriginal communities. Implications for public health: Eliminating skin disease could reduce antibiotic use by almost 20% in children under five years of age in this population.

Related Research Areas

  • Key populations
  • Public health research