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Childhood Allergies | Lyme Disease | The Use and Misuse of Antibiotics

Pediatrician Dr. John J. Ludwicki, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Dr. Ludwicki

The Use and Misuse of Antibiotics

Antibiotics are powerful medicines used to treat bacterial infections. Bacteria are microscopic one-celled organisms. Some bacteria are beneficial and some are detrimental to human health. Antibiotics work by either inhibiting bacteria from reproducing or by breaking apart the cell walls of bacteria. Viruses are sub-microscopic organisms, strands of DNA or RNA that get inside human cells to cause damage. Antibiotics cannot affect sub-microscopic viruses.

What's The Difference?

Bacterial infections typically cause the human body's immune system to create pus. This is white blood cells that help kill bacteria. Examples of these bacteria infections are ear infections (i.e., pus behind the eardrums), strep throat, urinary tract infections, and bacterial pneumonia.

Viruses, on the other hand, typically are the cause of colds an gastroenteritis. The body's response to viruses is mucus, phlegm, ulcerations, and vesicles as in chicken pox. Other examples of viral infections are the common cold, flu, and croup.

A Vitally Important Lesson

For doctors, it is very important not to use medicines when they are ineffective. The main reason for not using antibiotics "just in case" during a viral illness is the issue of resistant bacteria. New strains of bacteria have emerged. Every time an antibiotic is given, bacteria resistant to its effects may be left behind to create havoc another day. A different antibiotic might need to be prescribed for the next similar infection. So it is easy to see, if we over-use antibiotics, we may create a bacteria resistant to all known antibiotics, which has actually happened. The best way to protect a child from antibiotic-resistant bacteria is not to insist on an antibiotic when no bacterial infection is diagnosed.

Some further thoughts about the common cold are that a cold typically lasts 7-10 days in a child. It may or may not have an associated fever. In a cold, which is caused by a virus, the mucus in the nose typically changes through the course of the cold. Yellow-green discharge does not mean a bacterial infection. Remember, mucus and phlegm are typically viral.

However, if a mucousy discharge is still present greater than 10 days, it is important to see your pediatrician to rule out sinusitis.

Dr. Ludwicki has been kind enough to allow us to use his articles in the Parenting Guild.
Website: Premier Pediatrics

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