What parents should know about antibiotics

Understanding illness and getting proper diagnosis critical to avoiding misuse of antibiotics, expert says


This week marks Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, an annual effort to educate people about antibiotic resistance and the importance of appropriate antibiotic use.

Each year, tens of millions of antibiotics prescribed in doctors’ offices are for viral infections, which cannot effectively be treated with antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We asked Dr. Navjyot K. Vidwan , a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Dayton Children’s and an assistant professor at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, to talk about the proper use of antibiotics for children, who have the highest rates of antiobiotic use, according to the CDC.

Q: From Nov. 12-18, Dayton Children’s is promoting Get Smart About Antibiotics Week. What is the main mission of this week?

A: “We want to promote the message to be smart with our use of antibiotics. Antibiotics should be used to treat bacterial infections but are not effective against viral infections like the common cold, most sore throats and the flu. Widespread and/or incorrect use of antibiotics promotes the spread of antibiotic resistance.”

Q: When is it appropriate for children to take an antibiotic?

A: “Antibiotics, also known as antimicrobial drugs, are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria, not viruses. If your child is ill, seek guidance with your health care provider. Your health care provider will discuss the history of illness, clinical symptoms, and possibly do some lab tests to help determine if your child has a viral or bacterial illness.”

Q: When is it not appropriate for children to take an antibiotic?

A: “Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection with symptoms such [as] a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing and coughing. Keep in mind that over 200 viruses can cause the common cold and that symptoms can last for up to two weeks. Also, you should not save some of your antibiotic from a past illness and use it for a new illness on your child. We recommend you discard any leftover medication once you have completed any prescribed courses of treatment. In addition, please complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better. If your pediatrician concludes that you do not have a bacterial infection, feel free to ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms.”

Q: How can parents determine whether their children are suffering from a bacterial infection or a viral infection?

A: “Viral infections typically have cold-like symptoms, including runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and fever. Other family members may also have similar symptoms. Parents should consider seeking medical attention if their child starts to appear clinically worse, has consistently elevated temperatures higher than 100.4 degrees F, has symptoms lasting more than 10 days and has symptoms that are not relieved by over-the-counter medicines. Feel free to seek help from your pediatrician when you are concerned about your child’s condition. If your child is younger than 3 months of age and has a fever, it’s important to always call your health care provider right away.”

Q: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tens of millions of antibiotics are prescribed in doctors’ offices annually for viral infections that are not treatable with antibiotics. Why are antibiotics often mistakenly prescribed for viral infections?

A: “Some bacterial and viral infections can both present with fever. Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish between the two presentations. Sometimes, the health care provider is not able to perform a full exam on a child if not fully cooperative. In addition, parent pressure also makes a difference. In regards to pediatrics, a study showed that doctors prescribe antibiotics 62 percent of the time if they perceive parents expect them [to] and 7 percent of the time if they feel parents do not expect them [to].”

Q: If a child does not have a bacterial infection and takes an antibiotic, what possible negative effects may result?

A: “The term ‘antibiotic resistance’ means that when a person takes an antibiotic, the sensitive bacteria to the antibiotic is killed. However, it is important to understand that there is always a potential that resistant germs may be left over to grow and replicate and become more difficult to treat with the antibiotics available. The main reasons for an increase of antibacterial resistance are repeated and improper uses of antibiotics. The Centers for Disease Control states, ‘When antibiotics fail to work, the consequences are longer-lasting illnesses, more doctor visits or extended hospital stays, and the need for more expensive and toxic medications. Some resistant infections can even cause death.’”

  • “Be informed about what antibiotics are and why they are used. Viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics.”
  • “Seek medical attention to help determine if your child has a virus or a bacterial infection.”
  • “Do not push for antibiotics when they are not needed.”
  • “You should not save some of your antibiotic from a past illness and use it for a new illness on your child. We recommend you discard any leftover medication once you have completed any prescribed courses of treatment.”
  • “Complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better.”
  • “If your pediatrician concludes that you do not have a bacterial infection, feel free to ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms.”
  • “Practice good hand hygiene.”
  • “Get vaccinated for vaccine preventable infections.”



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