Dr Mark Rosenthal


Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine

also specialist in Food Allergies & Disorders of Sleep

A | A | A

T: 0207 351 8832

E: s.harvey@rbht.nhs.uk

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

Why Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer

Antibiotics can play an important role in the treatment of childhood infections, but they aren’t always the right option. Antibiotics cannot be used for viral infection treatment in children and there are some important reasons why they should be used very carefully.


When Antibiotics Can Help

Antibiotics are drugs that can help to eliminate bacteria, so they should only be used when your child has a bacterial infection. Colds, flu and many other common infections are actually caused by viruses, which means that antibiotics are useless.

Antibiotic Resistance

Although antibiotics can be very effective at treating bacterial infections, there are some bacteria that are resistant to these drugs. When bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic, some of them can develop resistance to it. This resistance can then be passed on to other bacteria, so it can spread very quickly. If someone is infected with bacteria that have developed antibiotic resistance, the usual medications won’t help to get rid of the problem. We may have to use different drugs, which could have more serious side effects. In the worst case scenario, there may not be a drug that can help to get rid of the infection.

Misuse of Antibiotics

One reason why antibiotic resistance has been spreading so quickly is that these drugs are being used inappropriately. Antibiotics have sometimes been prescribed for viral infection treatment in children, even though they can’t help. Since we all have harmless bacteria in our bodies, resistant strains can be created whenever we take antibiotics. The resistance can then spread to other bacteria, some of which could be harmful.

One recent study has revealed the extent of antibiotic resistance in the bacteria found in children:

  • 43% of bacteria were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and many were resistant to multiple drugs
  • Resistant bacteria were most likely to be found in children who had recently undergone treatment with antibiotics
  • Taking antibiotics in childhood can have long lasting effects, making it more difficult to treat bacterial infections that happen years later or in adulthood

The effects of improper antibiotic use can affect a child’s future health and risks spreading resistance to bacteria that could harm other people too. It is therefore essential for both doctors and parents to understand the importance of avoiding using antibiotics for viral infection treatment in children.