Antibiotics are among the greatest discoveries of human history and they are a miracle cure. However, there has been indiscriminate use of antibiotics resulting in the increasing occurrence of antibiotic resistance. This is a troublesome situation.
Here are some clarifications on what antibiotics are and when they are useful and when they are not. Indian parents should pay attention to this, so they can work with their doctor to find the best course of action for children's illnesses.
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight bacteria. They either kill bacteria or prevent them from multiplying.
Antiobiotics are not effective against viruses. Viruses are the cause of common illnesses like cold, flu, many types of sore throat, runny noses, most ear infections, bronchitis etc.,
What is antibiotic resistance?
Evolution is constant. And certain bacteria are starting to evolve in a way that reduces the potency of the antibiotics that fight them. This results in these bacteria surviving regular treatment courses and continuing to do harm.
If this resistance spreads to bacteria that cause common illnesses, all of us will be in trouble.
What is causing antibiotic resistance?
Very simply, it is due to the increased use of antibiotics. When antibiotics act, they kill the weakest bacteria first. Some strong bacteria will remain. Over time, only the strongest bacteria survive and multiply, thus leading to increased resistance.
A study in Chennai, that analysed pediatric prescriptions for certain illnesses found that in 79% of the cases antibiotics were prescribed, while the WHO recommendation is 20%1.
So how should I use antibiotics with my child?
- Do not use antibiotics for viral infections
- Do not go to your doctor demanding an antibiotic for your child. Sometimes doctors may prescribe antibiotics because a parent insists on it, even though it may not be required
- Do not use antibiotics without a doctor's advice
- Even if your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, discuss with them if it is essential. Sometimes the doctor may feel that it may be worth waiting a day or two to see if the child's health improves. This will also help improve the child's immunity.
- If prescribed, undergo the full course of antibiotics, and do not skip doses
- Do not use antibiotics that have been lying around from a previous illness or prescribed to another person
1. R. Bharathiraja, Sivakumar Sridharan, Luke Ravi Chelliah, Saradha Suresh, Mangayarkarasi Senguttuvan "Factors Affecting Antibiotic Prescribing Pattern in Pediatric Practice", Indian J Pediatr 2005; 72 (10) : 877-879