Antibiotics such as penicillin and erythromycin have made age-old illnesses easily treatable. These “wonder drugs” are wonderful — but only when used properly. Improper use and overuse have made many drugs ineffective because the bacteria they target have developed resistance to them.
Here’s how to ensure that your child benefits from the power of antibiotics.
WHAT ARE ANTIBIOTICS?
Antibiotics kill or prevent the growth of bacteria. They do not work for infections caused by a virus, such as cold, flu or chickenpox. Don’t ask your doctor for antibiotics for these ailments — you won’t be helping your child, and you may make him sicker.
Most antibiotics are taken by mouth as tablets, capsules or liquid. Never cut, crush or otherwise alter medication unless specifically instructed to do so by your child’s doctor or pharmacist. Medications are made in a certain way for a reason; altering the medicine may make it ineffective.
USING ANTIBIOTICS PROPERLY
Ask your child’s doctor about possible side effects of antibiotics. When your child is prescribed a certain medication, make sure you understand the proper dosage and in what form (e.g., tablets, liquid) the medication will come. Certain medications should not be taken with juice or milk. Ask the pharmacist if you’re not sure.
Before leaving the pharmacy, read the label to make sure the instructions are the same as your doctor’s. If not, ask your pharmacist to double-check them. If you are unsure of anything when you return home, call your doctor or pharmacist right away.
Give only the exact amount of medication indicated by your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Use a specially marked medicine spoon or cup to measure liquid doses. Kitchen spoons vary widely in size, so if you use one, you could wind up under- or overdosing your child. Medicine spoons, cups and syringes are available at most pharmacies.
If you miss a dose, give it as soon as you remember it to help keep a constant amount of medicine in your child’s blood. However, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and go back to your regular dosing schedule. Do not give 2 doses at once. Call your child’s doctor if 2 or more doses are missed.
If your child vomits after taking medicine, do not repeat the dose. Wait and give the next dose of medicine at the regular time. If your child vomits again, call the doctor for instructions.
Even if your child seems to feel better after a few days, keep giving the medicine until it’s all gone, unless otherwise instructed by your doctor. It’s important to give the medicine for the full treatment time to be sure all the bacteria that caused the infection have been killed. Surviving bacteria not only can cause a relapse, but they also may have developed resistance to the antibiotic, which they can pass on to other bacteria, eventually rendering the drug useless.
Never save unused medication for later use. Medications are prescribed specifically for each child. It could be dangerous or even fatal to give a prescription medication to a child it was not intended for. If your child’s doctor instructs you to give the medication for only a specific number of days, do not leave the unused medicine in the house. When the time is up, throw the remaining medication away.
Giving your child an antibiotic when she doesn’t need one can cause the antibiotic to be less effective in the future. Asking your child's doctor for an antibiotic prescription for his cold or viral illness may cause more harm than good. Antibiotics are ineffective against viral illnesses, and using them under these circumstances will help create super-strains of germs that are much more of a challenge to kill. This is called bacterial resistance.
When a sick child takes antibiotics too often — and for the wrong reason —bacteria change form. That reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of the medicine used to treat the infection. The resistant bacteria survive, continue to multiply and pass on their resistance to other bacteria. This makes it harder for antibiotics to work the next time your child is truly sick with a bacterial infection.
Overuse and misuse are 2 big reasons why bacteria have managed to “outsmart” antibiotics.
Bacterial resistance is quickly becoming a widespread problem, especially in North America, and it is one of the world’s most pressing public health concerns. Bacteria that were once highly responsive to antibiotics have become increasingly resistant.
Among those that are becoming harder to treat are the germs that cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections, middle ear infections, skin infections and meningitis.
WHEN ARE ANTIBIOTICS NECESSARY?
So what should you do when your child gets sick? Viral infections may sometimes lead to bacterial infections. However, treating viral infections with antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections doesn’t work and may lead to an infection with resistant bacteria. If your child becomes infected with resistant bacteria, she may need to be treated in the hospital with intravenous (IV) medicine.
Keep your child’s doctor informed if the illness gets worse or lasts a long time, so proper treatment can be given.
To minimize the risk of bacterial resistance, keep the following tips in mind:
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR
Call your child’s doctor if your child:
(8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.)
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