BACKGROUND: To describe the utilisation of antibiotics in children and adolescents across 5 European countries based on the same drug utilisation measures and age groups. Special attention was given to age-group-specific distributions of antibioticsubgroups, since comparison in this regard between countries is lacking so far. METHODS: Outpatient paediatric prescriptions of systemic antibiotics during the years 2005-2008 were analysed using health care databases from the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Germany. Annual antibiotic prescription rates per 1,000 person years were estimated for each database and stratified by age (</=4, 5-9, 10-14, 15-18 years). Age-group-specific distributions of antibiotic subgroups were calculated for 2008. RESULTS: With 957 prescriptions per 1000 person years, the highest annual prescription rate in the year 2008 was found in the Italian region Emilia Romagna followed by Germany (561), the UK (555), Denmark (481) and the Netherlands (294). Seasonal peaks during winter months were most pronounced in countries with high utilisation. Age-group-specific use varied substantially between countries with regard to total prescribing and distributions of antibiotic subgroups. However, prescription rates were highestamong children in the age group </=4 years in all countries, predominantly due to high use of broad spectrum penicillins. CONCLUSIONS: Strong increases of antibiotic prescriptions in winter months in high utilising countries most likely result from frequent antibiotic treatment of mostly viral infections. This and strong variations of overall and age-group-specific distributions of antibiotic subgroups across countries, suggests that antibiotics are inappropriately used to a large extent.