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Be Smart About Antibiotics

Antibiotics May Not be the Answer

Every year families face their share of colds, sore throats and other viruses. When a child is sick, parents want to do everything possible to help.  Parents often expect pediatricians to prescribe antibiotics, but frequently that's not the right answer.

Most illnesses are caused by two kinds of germs: bacteria and viruses.

Bacteria - cause strep throat and some cases of pneumonia. Antibiotics can stop these infections.
Viruses - cause the common cold, flu, and sore throats. Antibiotics don't kill viruses, don't prevent the spread of the virus, and may even be harmful.

What's the risk in taking antibiotics?

Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can cause some bacteria to become resistant to the antibiotic. Then the drug may not work when someone really needs it.

These resistant bacteria are harder to kill. Sometimes they can cause severe illnesses that can't be cured with antibiotics that we routinely use for other infections. A cure for resistant bacteria may require a different treatment - and possibly a stay in the hospital.

To help prevent antibiotic resistance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends giving a child antibiotic only when necessary.

Use antibiotics wisely

Antibiotics should not be used to treat the common cold, runny noses and most coughs. Children fight off these viral illnesses on their own.

If a child's healthcare provider prescribes an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection - like strep throat- be sure to give all of the medicine to the child as instructed by your doctor.

Commonly Asked Questions:

Q: How do I know if my child has a viral or bacterial infection?
A: Ask your child's healthcare provider and follow his or her advice on what to do about your child's illness. Safe over-the-counter medicine for children, proper rest, a humidifier and drinking plenty of fluid can help ease symptoms of a viral infection.

Q: Does this mean I should never give my child antibiotics?
A: Antibiotics are medications that should only be used to treat bacterial infections. Your healthcare provider should only prescribe antibiotics if your child has a bacterial infection.

Q: If mucus from the nose changes from clear to yellow or green - does this mean that my child needs an antibiotic?
A: No. Yellow or green mucus does not mean that your child has a bacterial infection. It is normal for mucus to get thick and change color during a viral cold.

Learn more about the Get Smart About Antibiotics Campaign from the CDC