November 12-18 is U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week. This week is part of the Centers for Disease Control’s efforts to improve antibiotic prescribing and use among healthcare facilities, physicians and farms.
As stewards of CDC’s mission, Lurie Children’s encourages and promotes proper use of antibiotics. Sameer Patel, MD, Infectious Diseases, says “Lurie Children’s provides resources to doctors, pharmacists, nurses and families to use antibiotics judiciously. Our goal is to promptly give the right antibiotic to our patients who need them while avoiding overuse.”
What is an antibiotic?
An antibiotic is a medication used to stop the growth of or kill bacteria and is considered one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. Some infections require antibiotics to treat suspected or confirmed bacterial infections. However, many illnesses, such as the common cold, are due to a virus and do not require antibiotics.
Patel explains that the overuse of antibiotics can lead to increased antibiotic resistance and limit the future effectiveness of these medications. According to the CDC, approximately 30 percent of children may be prescribed antibiotics unnecessarily.
Why is antibiotic overuse occurring in children?
“Antibiotic overuse tends to stem from two things: having diagnostic uncertainty and a lack of understanding that antibiotics is considered a precious resource,” says Patel.
In turn, a “just in case” mentality has been established where antibiotics are being prescribed when the infection may not necessarily require it, such as for fevers, sore throats, runny nose and ear infections.
Additionally, physicians sometimes experience pressure from parents to give antibiotics, which can lead to over-prescribing. Patel advises parents to understand that for healthy children with mild illnesses, most of the time, an antibiotic should not be expected because not every illness can be presumed to be bacterial.
What can be done to educate parents and children on antibiotic resistance?
Patel stresses two-way communication between a physician and child is key as well as asking intelligent and thoughtful questions. Specifically, having conversations surrounding whether or not a child really needs antibiotics can help alleviate parents’ concerns and prompt physicians to be mindful of the treatment plan.
To improve communication, Patel expresses there should not be any shame in asking questions about antibiotic use, such as the following:
- I’m concerned that my son or daughter may need [or not need] antibiotic?
- What should I do if my son or daughter still has a fever, maybe my child has to be reevaluated?
- If antibiotics is given, how long does my child need to be on it and what potential side-effects should I look for?
Patel says the way a child responds to an antibiotic can impact future medical decisions and move along a plan of action. Whether or not this medication is prescribed, it is the physician’s goal to make sure the child gets better.
Another reminder? “If you practice hygiene, get your vaccinations and flu shot, you are less likely to become sick and require antibiotics,” says Patel.
It is also beneficial to spread antibiotic resistance awareness within schools to help foster deeper understanding for both younger children in grade school and older children in high school.
Schools tend to focus health curriculum on nutrition and fitness, but Patel emphasizes that more efforts should be instilled to address antibiotic use. For younger children, he recommends having curriculum that covers how to practice proper hand washing and coughing into your elbow. For older kids, he says material should cover the importance of receiving vaccinations to limit your risk of receiving infection and the importance of understanding that antibiotics should not be the answer to all medical problems.
Most importantly? “Doctors are trying to use less antibiotics, and parents should know that the first step to conquering antibiotic overuse is to have a conversation with the doctor when a child is sick,” says Patel.