A prominent researcher has suggested that Levaquin side effects could be a factor in a mysterious polio-like illness that has affected dozens of children throughout the United States.
Dr. Charles Bennet, founder of the Southern Network on Adverse Reactions (SONAR), has spent years researching drug side effects. In an interview with WTVM 9 in Georgia, he noted similarity between some of the symptoms associated with Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) and the many adverse events that may accompany treatment with Levaquin (levofloxacin) and other fluoroquinolone antibiotics.
“We’ve talked to several patients, unexpectedly by us, whose children are getting very sick [with symptoms] and have been given Levaquin,” he said.
At least 80 children have been diagnosed with AFM this year, while over 400 pediatric cases have been confirmed since 2014.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 90% of victims had a mild respiratory illness or fever consistent with a viral infection before they began to show signs of AFM.
Children suffering from the condition may experience:
The side effects associated with Levaquin and other fluoroquinolone antibiotics include tendon damage, peripheral neuropathy, low blood sugar, and mental health issues, among others.
In May 2016, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned against the use of oral and injectable fluoroquinolones for most cases of sinusitis, bronchitis, and uncomplicated UTIs, after a review confirmed that the drugs could cause serious and potentially permanent side effects involving the tendons, muscles, joints, nerves, and central nervous system.
“The side effects are far more common than rare and that people don’t recognize the [sic] complications more because they are very hard to explain to doctors,” Dr. Bennet noted.
Because of the potential for Levaquin side effects, the FDA has restricted its pediatric indications to the treatment of inhalation anthrax and plague in children 6 months of age or older.
Yet in 2014, the agency reported that 69,000 children (ages 0-16 years) had been prescribed oral levofloxacin tablets from April 2011 through March 2014. During the same period, 9,900 pediatric patients were prescribed oral levofloxacin solution, while nearly 19,000 had a hospital billing for injectable levofloxacin.
According to Dr. Bennett, those numbers don’t add up, given the rarity of inhalation anthrax and plague.
“Why do we have this high amount? It’s a great question, and we are very concerned,” he said.
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit discontinued production of Levaquin in December 2017, due to, among other things “the wide availability of alternative treatment option,” However, unexpired Levaquin tablets could be available at pharmacies until September 2020, while generic versions of levofloxacin will remain on the market.
In recent years, hundreds of people have filed Levaquin lawsuits that accuse Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals of concealing the medication’s serious risks, including tendon damage, peripheral neuropathy, life-threatening aortic injuries.