What you should know about antibiotics


When are antibiotics useful?

Antibiotics fight bacterial infections. If your child has a runny nose, a cough, or a fever, it’s usually a viral infection.

Viral infections are very common, especially in toddlers, and do not respond to antibiotics.
What happens when my child gets a viral infection (virus)?

Your child’s body has an immune system with antibodies and special blood cells to fight all infections. A young child usually comes into contact with new viruses, which his immune system is called on to fight for the first time. If a virus is successfully treated, the next time the same virus enters the body, the child will not become ill, because he will be protected by the antibodies that were produced the first time round. This is why babies and toddlers have a tendency to fall ill quite often, while older children fall ill less frequently, as their immune system matures.
How can I enhance my child’s immune system?

A healthy child, who is gaining weight, and eating and sleeping normally, has all he needs to recover from viruses. When the child is ill, his immune system can be enhanced quite simply, by offering him plenty of fluids, and rest if he wants it, and relieving symptoms such as high fever, by dressing the child appropriately, and making sure he gets plenty of fresh air once he starts to recover, and no longer has a temperature. Offer him plenty of hugs and loving attention.
Why does my child get so many viruses?

Unfortunately, countless viruses exist. A normal child may catch up to 10 – 15 viruses a year. Children who go to nursery school, or have older siblings, are more vulnerable. Problems with a child’s immune system are rare, and can be diagnosed by a paediatrician. Simple measures, like thorough washing of the hands, and good hygiene, can prevent the transmission of viruses.
How do I know if my child has a viral or a bacterial infection?

Consult your paediatrician each time your child becomes ill. A child with a bacterial infection usually appears more unwell, has no appetite, and is lethargic.

A high temperature, or green nasal mucus, doesn’t always mean that there is a bacterial infection.

Often, the child becomes gradually worse if he has a bacterial infection. The paediatrician may need to see the child again, in order to make a diagnosis. It is also possible for the child to have a virus, and then get a bacterial infection on top of it. This is why it is very important to monitor the child, even if a virus has been diagnosed. Things change quickly with children. If the child has a new symptom, or you are concerned about anything at all, contact your paediatrician again.

Sometimes the paediatrician will also recommend that swabs be taken from the throat, or blood tests be done. With doubtful or questionable cases, the paediatrician may ask you to take the child to the hospital.
Why shouldn’t my child take antibiotics anyway?

Antibiotics may harm your child.

• Like all medications, they have side effects, which can be serious, for example, allergic reactions.

• ‘Good’ or harmless bacteria reside within our bodies, (in the nose, the throat, the intestine), and prevent the dangerous bacteria from invading. Antibiotics kill all bacteria without exception, even the useful ones. So, antibiotics can harm the body’s immune system if they are used unnecessarily, and cause infection from harmful bacteria.

• Bacteria find ways to develop resistance to antibiotics. If a child takes antibiotics often, and when it is not necessary, he is at risk of developing bacteria, that are resistant to antibiotics, resulting in any future serious infections becoming unresponsive to them. Resistance to bacteria, due to the unwarranted use of antibiotics, is one of the most serious problems in modern medicine today.

S Papaventsis MBBS MRCPCH DCH IBCLC 2012

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