The only common illness that affects children and requires an antibiotic every time is strep throat. Doctors won’t prescribe antibiotics if your child is sick with the flu or a cold because the treatment would be useless for those conditions.

Taking antibiotics when they’re not necessary can lead to antibiotic resistance in the body, one of the most urgent threats to public health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result,” according to the CDC. “Many more die from complications from antibiotic-resistant infections.”

Antibiotics are used to treat serious infections such as pneumonia and life-threatening conditions such as sepsis. Sometimes people at high risk for developing infections also need antibiotics, such as patients who have end-stage kidney disease, patients undergoing surgery or those receiving chemotherapy treatment, according to the CDC.

But viruses that cause colds, the flu, bronchitis or runny noses cannot be treated with antibiotics.

When are antibiotics appropriate?

In short, antibiotics only work on bacteria and not on viruses.

“Using an antibiotic when you don’t need it is a problem because these drugs don’t just kill off harmful bacteria; they also take a toll on the beneficial bacteria inside your body that help to help keep you healthy,” according to Harvard Medical School.

But even some bacterial infections get better without antibiotics, according to the CDC. “Antibiotics aren’t needed for many sinus infections and some ear infections,” reports the CDC. “Antibiotics save lives, and when a patient needs antibiotics, the benefits usually outweigh the risk of side effects and antibiotic resistance. When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and the side effects could still cause harm.”

When children need antibiotics

For children with the common cold, the flu or an upset stomach, antibiotics are not the answer. In fact, they could cause more harm than good down the road when the body actually does need these life-saving drugs.

According to Memorial Regional Health, strep throat is really the only common illness that affects kids that requires an antibiotic every single time. For other illnesses, MRH doctors will likely tell you to keep your child home from school to rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Taking unnecessary antibiotics doesn’t just affect the person taking them — including raising the risks of side effects that could cause harm such as nausea, dizziness, rash, diarrhea and yeast infections — but they also could cause harm to the community at large. When people become resistant to these drugs, the risk of the spread of certain diseases increases, such as tuberculosis, gonorrhea, typhoid fever and Group B streptococcus, reports the World Health Organization.

So, how do you avoid getting bacterial infections in the first place? Practice good hygiene, make sure you and your children receive recommended vaccinations, reduce your risk of foodborne illness by cooking foods properly and washing your hands. And finally, don’t take antibiotics when you don’t need them.

November 13, 2019

By Lauren Glendenning/
Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health
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