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Educate yourself about antibiotics

By Dr. David M. Berman, Special to the Times
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Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital will join other medical centers across the nation Monday through Nov. 19 in participating in U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week, an educational effort about the appropriate and safe use of antibiotics. When used appropriately, antibiotic therapy can be lifesaving, but improper use weakens our ability to treat infections.

Here are a few numbers to know when discussing antibiotics with your child’s physician:

50 percent of antibiotics are inappropriately prescribed. Bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics at alarming rates. Improper use and prescribing antibiotics when they are not needed all contribute to building that resistance. This can create a challenge for health care workers if you or your child get sick and need treatment for bacterial infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections and urinary tract infections.

66.8 million antibiotics were prescribed to U.S. children under 19 years old in 2013, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is enough to give an antibiotic to eight out of 10 U.S. children. When you take your child to the doctor, do not ask for an antibiotic. We cannot tell patients enough that antibiotics do not treat viruses that cause the common cold or the flu (influenza virus). Allow your physician to determine whether an antibiotic is appropriate for your child’s illness. If you are prescribed an antibiotic, you should ask why, and discuss side effects and antibiotic resistance. Certain antibiotics should be used very infrequently in children, such as azithromycin, commonly known as the "Z-Pak," yet azithromycin remains the second most commonly prescribed antibiotic in children in the United States.

Antibiotic adverse events, or complications, result in 142,500 visits to the emergency center by adults and children each year, with almost 80 percent of those visits related to allergic reactions. When your child is prescribed antibiotics, observe closely to see how well he or she tolerates the treatment.

Antibiotics represent a major tool in treating illness, but like any tool, they need to be used appropriately. If they are not, the tool may not work when we really need it.

Dr. David M. Berman is a board-certified pediatric infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.