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Antibiotics are not always the answer

Kids get sick. They get sick a lot. In fact, during the first three years of life, the average child gets six to eight viral upper respiratory track infections or colds per year. This is nature’s way of building up the immune system. As a pediatrician, I see dozens of children every day due to illness. One myth that I commonly come across is that antibiotics cure all illnesses.

Infections are caused by two main groups of “bugs,” viruses and bacteria. Viruses cause most infections in children: 100% of colds, 100% of croup, 99% of vomiting and diarrhea, 95% of fevers, 90% of coughs and 90% of sore throats. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections and often cause more harm than good.

Bacterial infections are much less common than viral infections. Bacteria cause most ear infections and sinus infections, 10% of sore throats (strep throat) and some pneumonia. After a viral cold about 10% of children develop an ear infection and 1% develop a sinus infection. Using antibiotics when your child has a cold does not prevent them from going on to have an ear infection or sinus infection. It actually selects out a resistant germ to cause a secondary bacterial infection, which is then harder to treat.

Another common myth is that yellow or green nasal drainage automatically means that there is a bacterial infection present. Yellow or green drainage just means that there is an infection that can either be viral or bacterial. The nasal drainage turns yellow or green because there are white blood cells, or the cells that fight infection present in the drainage. That is the body’s way of fighting the infection.

Bacterial resistance is another reason that overusing antibiotics can be harmful. When bacteria become resistant to an antibiotic, that antibiotic can no longer kill that type of bacteria. One example that we are seeing more and more of in the Van Wert area is a “super-staph” bacteria known as MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staph Aureus). MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics and causes recurrent skin infections like boils or abscesses. Overuse of antibiotics is the number one cause of resistant strains of bacteria. According to medical research, 50% of prescriptions for antibiotics are inappropriate and unnecessary. This makes future treatment of bacterial infections more difficult. We have to use newer and stronger antibiotics to treat resistant bacteria, but then the bacteria develop resistance to those antibiotics as well. In the battle between bacteria and antibiotics, the bacteria are winning.

The other issue with overuse of antibiotics is the side effects that your child can experience with antibiotics. Common side effects of antibiotics include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and rash. If you child develops a rash while taking an antibiotic it is often difficult to tell whether the rash is due to a drug allergy or an unrelated viral rash. Many children are therefore mislabeled as allergic to a family of antibiotics. That antibiotic is therefore unavailable for use in the future if the child really needs it.

The bottom line is that kids get sick often, but over 90% of the illnesses that children get are caused by viruses. These viruses are not cured by antibiotics. Harmful consequences from antibiotic overuse including resistant bacteria, side effects, mislabeling of antibiotic allergies and cost are all reasons to avoid unnecessary antibiotic use. Oftentimes, supportive care including Tylenol or Ibuprofen as needed for fever or pain, lots of rest and fluids and a little tender loving care will help your child be more comfortable during illnesses.


Flagyl is a medication used for parasitic infections, including Giardia infections of the small intestine, amebic liver abscesses...


Nitrofurantoin is an antibiotic medication used to treat and prevent urinary tract infections, especially those caused by...


Cephalexin is a medication used for the treatment of different kinds of infections, such as infections of the ear, tonsils and throat..


Clindamycin can be effective for treating a wide range of infections, including lung infections, skin infections, blood infections, internal organ infections and vaginal infections.


Diflucan is employed to deal with infections prompted by fungus, which can invade any portion of the human body like the throat, mouth, esophagus..

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