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Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Antibiotics are strong medicines that can kill bacteria. They have saved many lives and prevented bad outcomes. These drugs do not kill viruses. They only work on bacteria. Every day, doctors must decide if a child's infection is viral or bacterial. Here's how they do it:
Bacterial Infections. Much less common than viral infections. Antibiotics can help. Bacteria cause:
Viral Infections. Most infections in children are caused by a virus. Antibiotics do not help. Viruses cause:
Cold Symptoms that are Normal
Parents sometimes are worried about common cold symptoms. The symptoms below are not signs of bacterial infections. Nor, are they a reason to start antibiotics.
Side Effects of Antibiotics
All antibiotics have side effects. Some children taking these drugs can get side effects. Examples are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or a rash. Loose stools occur because the drug kills off the good bacteria in the gut. If your child gets a rash, it can be from the drug. Your doctor has to decide if the rash is an allergy or not. The biggest side effect of overuse is called antibiotic resistance. This is when the germs are no longer killed by the drug. That's why we only use antibiotics if your child really needs one.
Giving Antibiotics for Viral Infections: What Happens?
If your child has a virus, an antibiotic won't get rid of the fever. It will not help the other symptoms. The drug will not get your child back to school sooner. It will not get you back to work any faster. If your child has side effects from the drug, he will feel worse.
What You Can Do
The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.
If you think that your child is having a medical emergency, call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!
And when in doubt, call your child's doctor NOW or go to the closest emergency department.
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