Stories about: antibiotics

Why you should only use antibiotics if truly necessary

Four ways that antibiotics can cause real problems

Let’s be honest: most parents feel better when their sick child is prescribed an antibiotic.

There’s just something so reassuring about having a prescription. It’s hard to feel like all you can do is wait and give your child TLC; it feels better to do something. Even when the doctor says that your child has a virus, and explains that antibiotics treat bacteria, not viruses, it’s common for parents to think: but what if there is even a little chance that there is a bacterial infection along with — or instead of — the virus? It can’t hurt to be safe, right?

But that’s the thing: it can hurt. Here are four ways that antibiotics can cause real problems.

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MRSA, microbes and medicines: what parents need to know on World MRSA Day

methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The discovery of penicillin in 1928 marked the beginning of the antibiotic era and dramatic improvements in health and medicine. With mass production of the new “wonder drug” in the 1940’s, threats from killer diseases, such as bacterial infections and pneumonia, waned. However, less than 100 years later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sounded the alarm about the possibility of a post-antibiotic era.

That’s due to the growing menace of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or bacteria that have developed resistance to the drugs that once killed them.

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It’s Get Smart About Antibiotics Week!

We are entering cold and flu season—that time of year when many of us, and many of our loved ones, get sore throats and coughs and congestion and fevers and feel downright miserable. In our quest to feel better (and to make those we love feel better), it’s natural to want to do everything possible. So it’s understandable that many people want their doctors to give them antibiotics—after all, they have an infection and antibiotics treat infections, right?

Not exactly—or at least not always. That’s why the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has declared November 12th-18th “Get Smart About Antibiotics Week”: to help teach people what they need to know about antibiotics.

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Five important things you might not know about strep throat

Boston Children's pediatrician offers tips on strep throat, fevers and other common illnesses.On the Richter Scale of childhood illness, strep throat ranks pretty low, but its little tremors can wreak a fair bit of havoc on the day-to-day lives of parents and children. It’s also one of those illnesses that’s so common that people often think they know everything there is to know about it. But as a pediatrician I’ve discovered that parents really don’t know everything about this pesky and painful illness.

Here are five important things you might not know about strep — but should:

Not all sore throats are strep.

In fact, at most 30 percent of sore throats are caused by group A streptococcus, the bacteria that causes strep throat. The vast majority of sore throats are caused by viruses. And while you may think you know it’s strep from how it looks or your past experience, studies have shown that it simply isn’t as easy as it might seem; viruses and strep can look remarkably similar. To make the diagnosis, we need to do a rapid strep test or a throat culture. So if your pediatrician insists on seeing your child instead of calling in a prescription, they are doing the right thing.

Not all strep throats are sore.

Kids with strep throat can have headaches, stomachaches, vomiting and rash, or some combination of these symptoms — and sometimes these symptoms can bother them more than their throat does. I’ve seen lot of kids in the office with vomiting or headache and no sore throat who turned out to have strep, much to the surprise of their parents.

Strep usually gets better without antibiotics, but we treat it anyway.

This one often surprises people. Our immune system is actually pretty good at fighting group A streptococcus, and will generally get rid of it in a few days. But we give antibiotics, for three reasons:

  • To make kids feel better faster. If you’ve ever had strep, you know how miserable it can feel.
  • To prevent complications. Although it’s rare, strep throat can lead to problems in the heart, kidney and even the brain. By treating the infection, we make those complications far less likely.
  • To prevent spread of the infection. Strep is very contagious, as many parents and teachers will tell you. Once someone has been treated with antibiotics for 24 hours, the chances that they will give it to someone else go way down.

Having a positive culture doesn’t necessarily mean you have an infection.

Strep can live in our noses, mouths and throats and not make us sick. This is called being a carrier, and it’s more common than people realize. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether someone actually has strep throat or whether they are sick with a virus and happen to be a carrier! Because of this, we don’t recommend doing another test after treatment unless the person is still feeling sick. Most of the time being a carrier doesn’t cause trouble. If it seems to be causing recurrent infections, stronger antibiotics can be used, and sometimes a tonsillectomy is recommended.

Even though you may feel better after a day or two, it’s important to take the full course of antibiotics.

It really can be tempting to stop once that fever is gone and your child is happy and eating again — after all, they look completely better, and most kids don’t like taking medicine — but if you do, there’s a good chance the infection won’t really be gone and in a few days you’ll be right back where you started.

Read more popular posts from Dr. Claire McCarthy.


About the blogger: Dr. Claire McCarthy is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, a senior editor for Harvard Health Publications and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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