Get Smart About Antibiotics: Know When To Say No

Get Smart About Antibiotics: Know When To Say No

Guest post submitted by Natalie Mueller

In a perfect world, nothing would ever harm kids. They wouldn’t get booboos or ouchies and definitely wouldn’t get sick. Ever. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world and kids get sick. All. The. Time. In fact, preschool and kindergarten aged children can have up to 12 colds a year.  

antibioticsSometimes that means the sick child can’t go to school or daycare and you have to scramble to find other appropriate care or take off work yourself. None of that sounds very appealing. So maybe when the coughing and sneezing starts, you take your kid to the doctor and ask for an antibiotic as a quick fix. The antibiotic will clear up their cold, they can head to school or daycare, and if anyone says anything you can point out “they’re on an antibiotic, they are fine.”

Not exactly.

The truth is, antibiotics do NOT treat the common cold, coughs, running noses, the flu, bronchitis and even some sinus infections and ear infections. So, when you rush to get an antibiotic into your kid with these problems, what are you really doing? Not much of anything actually.

Antibiotics fight bacteria. The common cold, the flu, coughing and runny noses, bronchitis and some sinus infections and ear infections are caused by viruses. The difference is simple. Bacteria are living, single-celled organisms that are found on the inside and outside of our bodies, everywhere except in the blood and spinal fluid. Viruses are smaller than bacteria and cannot survive outside our body’s cells. Some bacteria are actually beneficial, while others cause illnesses. All viruses cause illness by invading healthy cells and reproducing in those cells to make them sick. Antibiotics kill or inhibit bacteria that cause disease. They have zero effect on viruses. Asking for antibiotics from the doctor for a viral infection is ineffective and will not help cure your child.

If you are guilty of this habit, you aren’t alone. According to the CDC, parent pressure makes a difference on physicians prescribing habits. Pediatricians prescribed antibiotics 62% of the time if they perceived parents expected them, and only 7% of the time if they felt parents did not expect them. In addition to those startling statistics, during one study, antibiotics were prescribed in 68% of acute respiratory tract visits and of those, 80% were unnecessary according to CDC guidelines.  

Using antibiotics unnecessarily can contribute to antibiotic resistance. The CDC defines antibiotic resistance as the ability of bacteria or other microbes to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance has been touted as world’s most pressing public health problems.

What doesn’t hurt you won’t kill you though, right?

Well, antibiotic resistance can make the perfect world envisioned at the beginning of this post impossible, and even the (real) imperfect world, where antibiotics clear up bacterial infections, nearly impossible. As antibiotic use continues to grow, bacteria grow with it. Bacteria are adapting to survive even after antibiotic treatment, meaning the next round of medicines used against that bacteria might not kill it all. Thanks to survival of the fittest, these extra-tough bacteria will multiply and spread, causing a real problem in our children, schools, and communities.

So why don’t pharmaceutical companies just develop new antibiotics to fight the surviving bacteria?

Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies are not interested in developing new antibiotics for one particularly potent reason. Money. Since antibiotic treatment is short term (usually a couple weeks), there is not much money in creating them. Companies would much rather target those customers with chronic diseases who will be popping pills (and shelling out the cash) every day for the rest of their lives. With no new antibiotics being developed, we are left to the ones we currently have, which are becoming more and more ineffective as bacteria adapt to the drugs.

So what can you do?

You can start by washing your hands. Then, teach good hand washing habits to your kids. Hands should be washed with soap (any kind) and warm water, scrubbing under the water for 20 seconds (or two verses of “Happy Birthday”) paying close attention to between the fingers, under the nails and the wrists. Hands should be washed frequently, including before and after food preparation, before and after bathroom breaks, after playing with pets, after touching face or mouth and any time hands are visibly dirty.

Proper hand washing is a proven way to reduce the spread of infection.

Next, you can take antibiotics for only bacterial infections as prescribe by your doctor. Don’t request antibiotics for your children if you are not sure what type of infection they have, let the doctor determine what is appropriate. What you request does influence doctors, so let them use their expertise in deciding what treatment to take. 

Finally, if your child is given antibiotics, make sure to finish the entire course, even if your child is doing better. The whole course, exactly as prescribed by your doctor, needs to be completed to kill all the bacteria and reduce the risk of developing resistance or recurring infections.

By taking these steps, we can slow the threat of antibiotic resistance and keep our children happy and healthy. Get smart about when to say no to antibiotics at KnowWhenToSayNo.org. On this website, you will find helpful information for childcare providers, parents and even a fun kid’s page. The website provides advice about when to take antibiotics, publications on antibiotic resistance, and resources to encourage good hygiene and disease prevention practices. 

Don’t let the threat of antibiotic resistance continue to grow. Fight back and Get Smart About Antibiotics.

[Related reading: 100 insights for raising successful children]

About the Author

Natalie Mueller is the Get Smart Program intern with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. She is currently pursuing her Master Degree in Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Although she has no children, she has a vested interest in children and their health. She loves reading parenting blogs and can’t wait to make one herself someday. You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and visit KnowWhenToSayNo.org for more information on antibiotic resistance. 

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*No compensation was received in exchange for the posting of this article.

Comments   

 
#4 Shara - owner 2013-06-28 07:49
Thank you for writing it.

Quoting Natalie Mueller:
Thanks so much for posting this!
Quote
 
 
#3 Shara - owner 2013-06-28 07:48
Neema - Thanks so much for your comment! I agree that this is a great topic and I was pleased to have Natalie guest write for us.

Quoting Neema:
GREAT TOPIC to discuss!
It's true, people need to realize these "quick fixes" aren't always the best solution. Also, to let the doctor do their job in suggesting medications without interfering. If they doubt their own physician, what does that really say about their own confidence in choosing a physician.
All in all, antibiotics are just one example out of many, where medications are not fully understood and taken too lightly.
Quote
 
 
#2 Neema 2013-06-26 21:17
GREAT TOPIC to discuss!
It's true, people need to realize these "quick fixes" aren't always the best solution. Also, to let the doctor do their job in suggesting medications without interfering. If they doubt their own physician, what does that really say about their own confidence in choosing a physician.
All in all, antibiotics are just one example out of many, where medications are not fully understood and taken too lightly.
Quote
 
 
#1 Natalie Mueller 2013-06-26 19:19
Thanks so much for posting this!
Quote
 

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