Dr Mark Rosenthal


Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine

also specialist in Food Allergies & Disorders of Sleep

A | A | A

T: 0207 351 8754

E: s.harvey@rbht.nhs.uk

A:The Royal Brompton Hospital, London, SW3 6NP

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You may expect your doctor to prescribe antibiotics when you bring your child in with an infection, but it won’t happen every time. Your doctor may recommend antibiotics for some kinds of infections, but you won’t be given these drugs for any kind of viral infection in children. You should only be prescribed antibiotics if your doctor suspects a bacterial infection, rather than a viral one, or if there is a need to use antibiotics to stop bacteria from causing an infection when the immune system is already busy dealing with another problem.

Antibiotics Can’t Help With Viral Infections

Antibiotics can be a powerful treatment for many kinds of infections, but there is a very good reason why your doctor won’t give you antibiotics every time your child has an infection. Antibiotics are drugs that can eliminate bacteria, so they are very good at getting rid of bacterial infections. Unfortunately, many infections are actually caused by viruses, not bacteria. This means that antibiotic drugs are completely powerless against viral infection in children.

The Problem with Overusing Antibiotics

Prescribing antibiotics for viral infection in children isn’t just pointless, it also contributes to the serious problem of antibiotic resistance. Bacteria can sometimes learn to counteract antibiotics when they are exposed to them, and they can pass this resistance on to their descendants and to the other bacteria they meet. Since there are always some harmless bacteria in your body, this means that every time you use antibiotics, whether it is helping you with a bacterial infection or not, there are bacteria in your system that are learning to become more resistant to it. Antibiotics end up becoming less effective the more they are used, which can be a big problem when someone is infected by a dangerous strain of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. Preventing unnecessary antibiotic use for viral infections can slow down the spread of antibiotic resistance, so your doctor won’t give your child antibiotics unless they are really needed.

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