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Should Children Take Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are drugs which fight infection; doctors generally restrict the term to those that kill bacteria. Examples of bacterial infections include pneumonia and tonsillitis. The vast majority of winter ailments such as colds, flu, and chest infections are caused by a different type of organism called a virus and these do not respond at all to antibiotics.

When penicillin was first discovered it was effective against a wide range of bacteria, but as its use increased, bacteria were able to ‘learn’ to combat the antibiotic and it is now effective against only a limited number of bacteria. Research has produced dozens of new antibiotics since then but many have suffered the same fate. Doctors are becoming image 36 Should Children Take Antibiotics?concerned at this escalating resistance to antibiotics and many now feel that we should avoid using them at all in infections that are known to be viral.

Since we have so few effective treatments for viral illnesses this means that diseases such as flu, colds, and most sore throats would be treated symptomatically (with drugs such as paracetamol for fever or antihistamines for stuffy noses and catarrh). By doing this we could keep effective antibiotic treatments for those infections which really need them. Doctors would still have to make a diagnosis in many cases. Most people can self-diagnose a cold, but any unexpected or worrying symptoms should be reported to a doctor. The doctor would then decide whether to issue over-the-counter remedies or to issue a prescription.

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