This is a post prepared under a contract funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and written on behalf of the Mom It Forward Influencer Network for use in CDC’s Be Antibiotics Aware educational effort. Opinions on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CDC.
Remember this? It tastes like bubble gum.
I’m a Gen Xer. My childhood was filled with this stuff.
Our parents and doctors were not antibiotics aware, were they?
Anytime that we didn’t feel good, off to the pediatrician we went. On the way home, we would stop at the pharmacy and pick up that bottle of pink stuff. It was a common sight in any of our friends’ refrigerators because we never finished the prescribed dose either.
Ugh. Now we know that antibiotics are inappropriately being used and bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics.
Why do we ask for antibiotics? When do we really need them?
Parents sometimes ask for or expect antibiotics from healthcare professionals, even when the illness is not caused by bacteria, because they:
- Think the antibiotic will help them feel better more quickly and/or stop their illness from getting worse.
- Don’t know the condition is caused by a virus, and therefore antibiotics won’t help.
- Don’t know or understand the side effects of antibiotics.
- Have received an antibiotic in the past, or know someone who has received one in the past, for the same illness, and it seemed to work.
There is no magic pill, folks. I get it, we’re sick, our kids are sick, and we just want to make them feel better. Guess what? In cases when you or your child has a virus, or in certain cases of bacterial infections, antibiotics are not needed.
- Antibiotics do not work on viruses that cause colds and flu, bronchitis, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow, or green.
- Antibiotics are only needed for treating certain infections caused by bacteria. Even some bacterial infections get better without antibiotics, including many sinus infections and some ear infections.
And throughout my childhood, we weren’t very aware of this. Kids with ear infections? Antibiotics. Kids with runny nose or bronchitis? Antibiotics.
Why it’s a problem
Any time you take an antibiotic it contributes to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At least 23,000 people die as a result. Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health!
What everyone should know
- Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. Ask your healthcare professional about the best way to feel better while your body fights off the virus.
- When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and the side effects could still hurt you. Side effects range from minor to very severe health problems, such as a rash or difficile (C. diff) infection. When you need antibiotics for an infection, the benefits of the drug usually outweigh the risk of side effects.
- You can stay healthy and keep others healthy by cleaning hands, covering coughs, staying home when sick, and getting recommended vaccines—for the flu, for example.
As a mom of a child who is medically complex, I am glad that my pediatrician follows good practice on this. There have been several times when I have taken my child to see her, and she’s just shrugged and said, “Sorry, just has to run its course. Here’s what to watch for.”
We need to do better
A lot of this falls on us. We have to be better patients, better consumers, and better advocates for ourselves and our kids. While it can be frustrating to go home without medicine for your child, I think as parents we just need to get used to this and find ways to help relieve their symptoms. Because there is no magic pill for some illnesses.
Antibiotics are critical for treating people with serious infections, such as pneumonia or sepsis, the body’s extreme response to an infection. Improving the way we take antibiotics helps keep us healthy now, helps fight antibiotic resistance, and ensures that life-saving antibiotics will be available for future generations.
To learn more about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use.
To learn more about sepsis, a life-threatening condition that is treated with antibiotics, visit www.cdc.gov/sepsis.