In India, the monsoons are welcomed with open arms, and people look forward to the respite from the heat. But unfortunately, the monsoons also bring along several illnesses, which don’t spare our little ones either! The sight of our ill young ones usually leaves us reaching out for the available medicine or the doctor’s number, depending upon the severity of the illness.
The problem arises when parents insist on antibiotics for the children, without knowing that they’re actually harming their kids in the long run. The situation is worse when they use leftover meds or go straight to the pharmacist without consulting a paediatrician.
How do antibiotics work?
Antibiotics are medicines that have been designed to work on bacteria, which explains why your viral infection doesn’t improve even with a full course of antibiotics. Which brings us to the ‘course’ part. Antibiotics need to be taken for a certain number of days, usually 3, 5 or 7. Some people may feel better in just a couple of days of taking the medicine and so stop it altogether.
This means that the drug cannot reach the required level in the blood that is required to fight the infection completely. Thus the bacteria develops a toxin against the drug and neutralizes the drug. This makes the drug ineffective against the bacteria, even when taken just a month later.
Why Antibiotics are not the Answer to Everything
Unfortunately, these days people think of antibiotics as some kind of miracle drug which can treat any and all symptoms and illnesses. This blatant abuse of antibiotics has led to the development of drug resistant bacteria that are getting increasingly hard to treat.
Dr Camilla Rodrgiues of the Infection Control Committee of Hinduja hospital says, “Antibiotics, once hailed as the bedrock of modern medicine, may not work on infections in the next ten years as their indiscriminate use had spawned drug resistant bacteria.”
She couldn’t have put it better as I have experienced this phenomenon in my practice too. In most cases, common illnesses like a cold are caused by viruses and antibiotics have little or no effect on them.
This has been perfectly captured in this poster of the European Antibiotic Awareness Day:
Tips for dealing with antibiotics correctly
When I was working as a consultant in a multinational company, I met a foreign national who had a mild infection in his foot from a mosquito bite. He had a swelling and some pain, so I advised him to take an antibiotic but he blatantly refused and stuck to his pain killers. After a week of dressing the wound, the infection subsided and he recovered completely-without the need for any antibiotics.
In the western world, very few medications are available as over the counter drugs, but in India anyone can even buy pregnancy termination drugs over the counter!! To combat this sorry situation, you can take a few steps to keep your family safe and prevent antibiotic resistance.
1. Do not take antibiotics as over counter medication, always consult a doctor first.
2. Complete the prescribed course (either 3 or 5 days); don’t stop in between even if you feel better.
3. Do not save antibiotics for the next illness, discard any left over medication.
4. Prevent infections by good hand health hygiene and getting the recommended vaccines.
Antibiotics aren’t evil, it’s the indiscriminate way in which we’re using them that’s causing all the problems. So next time anyone in your family falls ill, wait and see your doctor first; skip the antibiotics!