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Giving children antibiotics in the first six months of their life has been linked to an increased likelihood of allergies and asthma.

These research findings -- which were released Tuesday and are believed to be the first of their kind in the world -- will likely add to growing fears that years of antibiotic use on children have had unexpected side-effects.

The study's lead author said Tuesday that she is not advocating that children no longer be given antibiotics, but rather that their use should be restricted.

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"I believe we need to be more prudent in prescribing them for children at such a young age," said Dr. Christine Cole Johnson, senior research epidemiologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

"In the past, many of them were prescribed unnecessarily, especially for viral infections like colds and flus when they would have no effect anyway."

Dr. Johnson was lead author of the study, tracking 448 children from birth to the age of seven years, slightly less than half of whom were exposed to antibiotics very young. Assessing the children repeatedly, the research team noticed several interesting findings. Children given at least one antibiotic in the first six months were found to be:

  • 1.5 times more likely to develop allergies by age seven than those who did not receive antibiotics and 2.5 times more likely to develop asthma.
  • 1.7 times more likely to develop allergies, and three times more likely to develop asthma -- if they lived in those early years with fewer than two pets.
  • nearly twice as likely to develop allergies if their mother had a history of allergies.
  • nearly twice as likely to develop allergies if they were also breast-fed for more than four months.

The results were to be presented Tuesday at the European Respiratory Society's annual conference in Vienna.

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