Hold the penicillin

Published 9:23 pm Monday, October 13, 2008

Every parent has been there.

Your child wakes up in the middle of the night, sniffling and coughing. You take her temperature, and she has a slight fever. Glad that you saved some of her antibiotics from when she had strep throat, you make her take the medicine, and you both go back to bed.

Unwittingly, you’ve just made several common mistakes that may have made your child feel worse and made her next bacterial infection more expensive and difficult to treat, say officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Antibiotics are agents, produced by organisms such as fungi, that kill or prevent the spread of bacteria. However, many common illnesses such as colds, chest colds, flu, most coughs and bronchitis, sore throats not caused by strep, fluid in the middle ear or runny noses are caused by viruses, not bacteria.

Therefore, antibiotics will not help cure the infection, keep other people from catching the illness, or make you or your child feel better.

To make matters worse, taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can help create strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics – meaning bacterial infections get more difficult and expensive to treat for everyone.

“This year, antibiotic-resistant bacteria will cause over a million infections in the U.S. – some of them fatal. And the problem is getting worse,” explained the State Health Commissioner, Dr. Karen Remley, in a press release. “Inappropriate use of antibiotics is a major cause of this epidemic: about one third of the 150 million courses of antibiotics prescribed each year in the outpatient setting are unnecessary.”

To fight the problem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched an annual campaign, held every second week in October, to educate the public about the proper use of antibiotics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are several steps people can take to help prevent the creation of more antibiotic-resistant bacteria (commonly called “superbugs”):

Talk with your doctor about antibiotic resistance.

When you are prescribed an antibiotic, take it exactly as the doctor tells you. Complete the prescribed course even if you are feeling better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect you. Make sure your child does the same.

Throw away any leftover medication once you have completed your prescription.

Do not skip doses.

Do not save antibiotics for the next time you get sick.

Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.

Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold, a cough, or flu.

Do not demand antibiotics when a doctor says they are not needed.

If you have a viral infection, you can increase fluid intake, use a vaporizer or saline spray, and soothe throat with ice chips, sore throat spray or lozenges (do not give lozenges to young children).

For more information about antibiotics and their proper use, visit http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/community/index.htm.