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When Antibiotics Can Help and How We Can Keep Them Effective

Posted on Nov 12, 2018

David Berman, D.O.

This is U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week, an annual event that health care facilities across the country partner with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to educate health care providers, patients and families about safely and appropriately using antibiotics as well as raising awareness about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. New research shows about 70,000 kids visit the emergency center each year due to reactions from antibiotics. We want to make sure antibiotics are used properly and only when needed. David Berman, D.O., FAAP, FPIDS, explains the effectiveness of antibiotics.

What is antibiotic resistance?

When antibiotics aren’t used properly, they may not work when they are really needed to treat a bacterial infection. Health care providers then have fewer options to treat serious bacterial infections and sometimes more expensive antibiotics with side-effects need to be used. Additionally, resistant bacteria can spread from person to person.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. How do we know if it’s a bacterial infection vs. a virus?

A lot of families want to head straight to the doctor for antibiotics when their child has a cold, but they should only be prescribed for infections such as skin abscess/impetigo, bacterial pneumonia, urinary tract infection, streptococcal pharyngitis, and some middle ear infections. Most upper respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses. Remember, antibiotics do not treat viruses so never ask your health care provider to prescribe you an antibiotic.

Are there risks to taking antibiotics?

When used appropriately, antibiotics can save lives. However, when inappropriately prescribed, adverse reactions can occur like, C. difficile diarrhea, liver and kidney injuries, interactions with other medications, and allergic reactions, which are sometimes life-threatening sending kids to the hospital and Emergency Center. Even when taken appropriately, antibiotic adverse events still sometimes occur so parents should monitor their children closely and ask your health care provider questions like, “Does my child absolutely need this?” “Is this the right antibiotic?”

Another example, about why families need to talk to their health care provider about antibiotics is that 90 percent of patients who report a penicillin allergy are not truly allergic and can receive penicillin or similar antibiotics safely. A rash during a childhood viral illness or gastrointestinal side-effects from an antibiotic may have been called an allergy. Unfortunately, once someone is labeled in their chart as having a penicillin allergy, it is difficult to remove that label. This results in prescribing broader-spectrum, more expensive, and less safe antibiotics.

At Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, we will be implementing a procedure to de-label patients as penicillin allergic, through a safe penicillin drug challenge, during hospitalization. If you have been labeled as penicillin allergic, you may want to speak with your health care provider to determine if you should be tested for penicillin allergy by an allergist.

This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.

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