Focus On Pediatrics-Antibiotic use still needs to be taught

Miracle cure not always the answer

Although the media have covered antibiotic-resistant diseases caused by the overuse of antibiotics, many people still look to this medicine as the miracle cure. Especially parents, desperate to come to the aid of a sick child. That’s why education still is needed.

"Consumers will get the message much more clearly if we, their health care providers, take the time to talk to them about this issue. Explain the facts," says Fran London, MS, RN, health education specialist at The Emily Center at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

What do parents need to know? According
to the Elk Grove Village, IL-based American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), they need to be told that there are two types of germs that cause infections: bacteria and viruses. While antibiotics can cure many bacterial infections, they never cure common viral infections such as most colds, coughs, sore throats, or runny noses. These illnesses must be allowed to run their course, and colds often last for two weeks or more.

The physician should determine the need for an antibiotic after a physical examination, according to the AAP. That’s because some ear infections require antibiotics but others do not, and while viruses cause most sore throats, strep throat requires an antibiotic.

Often, parents who pressure health care pro-viders to prescribe antibiotics inappropriately are uninformed and want the child to get well and return to day care or school so that they might return to work, says London. In such cases, it might take more than education about the appropriate use of antibiotics. "We can be emotionally supportive and help them problem-solve to better balance family and work demands."

Overuse can cause sensitivity or allergies

Parents also need to know that with overuse a child can become sensitive or allergic to them. If this should happen, the child won’t be able to take the antibiotic when he or she needs it. Also with overuse, the weakest bacteria are destroyed, leaving only the strongest strains that grow and thrive, thus creating antibiotic-resistant diseases, says London.

A child’s chances of being infected with resistant bacteria increases with the use of antibiotics, according to the AAP. If this should happen, the child may need to be hospitalized.

If a child is prescribed an antibiotic, parents should be given explicit instructions on how to administer the prescription, says London. "My concern is the inappropriate use of the antibiotics when they are needed. So many people do not give their children the entire prescription, but save some for the next time the child is sick."

To help parents understand the consequences, London likes to help them reason for themselves using a script that demonstrates how strong bacteria live longer and can cause a relapse. n

For more information on educating parents about the proper use of antibiotics, contact:

Fran London, MS, RN, Health Education Specialist, The Emily Center, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, 909 East Brill St., Phoenix, AZ 85006. Telephone: (602) 239-2820. Fax: (602) 239-4670. E-mail:

American Academy of Pediatrics, 141 N.W. Point Blvd, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1098. Telephone: (847) 434-4000. Fax: (847) 434-8000. Web: