Docs urge parents to avoid antibiotics to treat the common cold

WASHINGTON — This is peak season for colds and respiratory infections. And there is growing concern that too many children could be getting medications they don’t need.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a campaign to convince doctors to cut back on prescriptions for antibiotics for both children and adults suffering from everything from the common cold to garden-variety bronchitis.

The reason is simple.

“Respiratory illnesses are predominantly caused by viruses, and antibiotics do not have any ability to target and attack viruses,” says Dr. Kavita Parikh, a pediatrician with the Children’s National Health System.

Antibiotics fight bacteria. Although they might be useful in treating a strep throat, they do nothing to ease the symptoms of a bad cold.

Yet they remain a rather popular treatment. Parikh says it is taking time to get the word out, and praises both the CDC campaign and a similar effort to curb adult antibiotic use by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

She says the medical community needs to remember that the overuse of antibiotics can have consequences for both the patient and the community. These drugs can cause side effects for children including a rash or upset stomach.

At the same time, overuse on a community-wide scale could lead to the development of drug-resistant “super bugs.”

Basic respiratory infections like a bad cold usually just run their course in a matter of days. For most children, the best course is to treat the symptoms the old-fashions way: rest, fluids, steam and perhaps an over-the-counter medication to reduce a fever.

Parikh says if the cough and congestion last more than 10 days, it’s a good idea to visit the doctor. It could be the illness has a bacterial component and in that case, an antibiotic might help.

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