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Public health is public wealth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Deanna Herbert   

Parents with young children, take heed: popping your kids full of antibiotics when they aren’t necessary could do them more harm than good.

We’ve reached that time of year when sniffles, sneezes and sore throats take over our senses; when mountains of wadded up tissues spill from our trash cans and half empty cups of hot tea litter our table tops. If any of these scenarios find you or your child sitting in your doctor’s office, there are some important things you should know going in.

Most illnesses are caused by two kinds of germs, bacteria or viruses. Antibiotics can cure bacterial infections, but they do not cure viral infections. In addition, colds, flu, most sore throats and bronchitis are caused by viruses. So if you’ve got a viral infection, antibiotics will not cure your infection, they won’t help you feel better nor will they keep others from catching your illness.

The overuse of antibiotics has become such a concern that the Institute of Medicine has identified antibiotic resistance as one of the key microbial threats to health in the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now has an annual campaign to address the issue.

Nov. 15–21 is CDC’s third annual Get Smart About Antibiotics Week. It’s an educational campaign designed to educate not only providers about appropriate prescribing guidelines, but also decreasing antibiotic demand from parents of young children for viral upper respiratory infections.

According to one study recently cited by the CDC, parent pressure is a huge factor when deciding whether or not to prescribe antibiotics. For pediatric care, one study showed that doctors prescribe antibiotics 62 percent of the time if they perceive parents expect them and just seven percent of the time if they feel parents don’t expect them. Children are of greater concern for antibiotic resistance because they have the highest rate of antibiotic use.

The harm in taking antibiotics when they are not needed is that it causes some bacteria to become resistant to the antibiotic. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Those resistant bacteria then become stronger and harder to kill and they can stay in your body and cause severe illnesses that cannot be cured with antibiotics. Finding a cure for resistant bacteria may then require stronger treatment and possibly a stay in the hospital.

The best thing you can do this cold and flu season is to speak with your health care provider about antibiotic resistance. If you are prescribed an antibiotic, make sure you take it exactly as the doctor tells you. Stopping treatment too soon, even if you don’t have symptoms anymore, means that only part of the infection has been treated. Not finishing the medicine can also cause resistant bacteria to develop.

For more information about the proper use of antibiotics, visit the CDC’s website at Knowing when antibiotics work, and when they don’t, will help to keep you and your children healthy.