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Paediatr Child Health. 1998 Jul-Aug; 3(4): 271.
PMCID: PMC2851351

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are drugs or medicines that doctors use to kill bacteria and cure infections. They do not help cure illnesses caused by viruses.

WHAT ARE GERMS AND WHAT ILLNESSES DO THEY CAUSE?

Germs are in the air we breathe and on everything we touch. Some germs can live for days outside the body.

The two most common types of germs are called bacteria and viruses. Strep throat and skin infections are examples of illnesses caused by bacteria; colds and flus are examples of illnesses caused by viruses.

When germs enter the body, a fever may result. Fever is a sign that the body is fighting to kill these germs.

HOW EFFECTIVE ARE ANTIBIOTICS AGAINST GERMS?

In recent years the antibiotic resistance of bacteria that cause infections in children has become a major problem. Consequently, many infections cannot be treated with traditional antibiotics, and new (and often more expensive) drugs must be used.

WHY HAVE BACTERIA GAINED A RESISTANCE TO ANTIBIOTICS?

There are many reasons why bacteria develop a resistance to antibiotics including inappropriate usage. Antibiotics may kill some but not all bacteria present. When antibiotics are used for the wrong reason or for an incorrect length of time, they may favour the growth of more bacteria resistant to that antibiotic.

For instance, a child with a cold is infected with a virus, for which there is no effective antibiotic. Nonetheless, antibiotics are prescribed for the cold as often happens. The use of antibiotics does not cure the infection, but can actually encourage antibiotic resistance among the bacteria that normally inhabit that child’s intestinal tract. Now if that child develops a bacterial infection, those bacteria may be resistant to the antibiotic that was used incorrectly to treat the cold.

HOW CAN PARENTS HELP AVOID POSSIBLE ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?

There are certain steps that you can take to help you and your family avoid the possibility of antibiotic resistance.

  • Try to ensure that your child only receives antibiotics when they are clearly indicated for the treatment of a bacterial infection. Children with colds should not receive antibiotic therapy.
  • Be sure that any antibiotic is administered properly at the prescribed dose and taken for the prescribed duration.
  • Never use antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
  • Never use antibiotics left over from an unfinished prescription.

Footnotes

This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your physician. There may be variations in treatment that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

This information may be reproduced without permission and shared with patients and their families.

Canadian Paediatric Society, 2204 Walkley Road, Suite 100, Ottawa, Ontario K1G 4G8 telephone 613-526-9397, fax 613-526-3332, http://www.cps.ca


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