Virus Versus Bacteria: Is An Antibiotic Necessary?
When your child is sick, the only thing on your mind is making him feel better. Sore throats, tummy aches, and the sniffles all need TLC, and sometimes your child may need a prescribed antibiotic. Boys Town Pediatrics offers tips to parents on understanding when antibiotics can help the healing process and when they can do more harm than good. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. Antibiotics will not work against viral infections, which are much more common in children. Bacterial infections which may require treatment with an antibiotic include ear and sinus infections, Strep throat, and whooping cough. Viral infections which will not be treated by antibiotics include colds, croup, many cases of bronchitis, and 99% of illnesses with vomiting and diarrhea. Antibiotics can prevent serious complications of bacterial infections and even save lives. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unnecessary use of antibiotics is a large factor in the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Even new antibiotics recently introduced to the market may not work for dangerous bacterial infections as a result of continued overuse. For these reasons, you should not expect or demand that your child’s doctor will automatically prescribe an antibiotic when he or she is sick. Instead, let the physician examine your child and make a determination whether an antibiotic is truly necessary. By using antibiotics appropriately, it is more likely that an antibiotic will be helpful when needed. If your child does have a bacterial infection and is prescribed an antibiotic, it is important to know the following: * Always complete the entire prescription. Discontinuing use before all doses have been taken may result in re-emergence of the bacteria. * Do not save any of the antibiotic for future use. Do not share it with others. Taking a partial dose of an antibiotic could make the remaining bacteria resistant. * If your child develops upset stomach and/or diarrhea while on an antibiotic, talk with your doctor about measures to deal with this. If a rash develops during a course of antibiotics, your child should be examined by a physician to determine whether he or she is allergic to the drug. If your child is allergic to a drug, remember to mention it to the physician when future bacterial infections strike. Remember that even if an antibiotic is not prescribed for your child’s illness, there are still plenty of things you can do to help him or her feel better. With a cold, provide humidification using a cool mist vaporizer. Ensuring that your child is taking in plenty of fluids is important with any illness to avoid dehydration. Helping your child get enough rest may require creative solutions like propping him or her upright for sleep. As over-the-counter medications can have dangerous side effects, use of these should be discussed with your child’s physician. Q&A How are viral and bacterial infections spread? Both viral and bacterial infections are spread the same way: * Sneezing/coughing * Shaking hands * Touching food with dirty hands * Contact with body fluids such as blood and saliva There is really no way to prevent your child from coming in contact with germs, but there are steps you can take to help prevent them from spreading. Encourage your child to wash his or her hands after meals and snacks and playing with toys. Hand sanitizers are just as effective as soap and water. If your child is sick, keep him or her home from daycare, school, grocery stores and other public places. What is the difference between viruses and bacteria? Viruses are not alive and must invade living cells to grow. The body’s own immune system must fight off the virus or let it run its course. Viral infections are usually accompanied by multiple symptoms such as a sore throat, runny nose, congestion, vomiting and diarrhea. Bacteria are living organisms and can be found everywhere. There are times when the body’s immune system may not be able to fight off a bacterial infection. Antibiotics work to kill the bacteria by stopping its growth. Bacterial infections often go together with pain, aches, or sore areas of the body. A thorough examination by your child’s doctor will be helpful in distinguishing between these infections.
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