Got a virus? You don’t need an antibiotic but you might get one; Kentucky leads the nation in outpatient antibiotic prescriptions

Antibiotics don’t cure illnesses caused by viruses, and can even cause “dire consequences” when used inappropriately, so it’s important to take them only when necessary, says a news release from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

“Antibiotics are the only drugs where use in one patient can impact the effectiveness in another patient,” Andrea Flinchum, a registered nurse and coordinator for the Kentucky Department for Public Health’s Healthcare-Associated Infection Prevention program. “They are wonderful tools in fighting bacterial or fungal infections – but prescribing them for viruses or taking them for illnesses they do not treat, can cause bacteria to become resistant to these drugs.”

Parents need to know that illnesses like the common cold, the flu, runny noses (even with yellow and green mucus), coughs, bronchitis, sore throats, most sinus infections and some ear infections are usually viral and antibiotics won’t cure them, says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, antibiotics won’t help your child feel better and won’t keep others from catching your child’s illness. Viral illnesses usually go away without treatment in a week or two.

The problem is that when your child takes an antibiotic when they don’t need it it kills the good bacteria in your child’s body, which can lead to complications, like diarrhea or yeast infections.

Overuse can also lead to bacteria developing resistance to a medication, making infections stronger and harder to kill. Sometimes these infections are so severe that they cannot be cured with antibiotics and thus require stronger treatments, and possibly hospitalization. The CDC estimates that each year 2 million Americans get an infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and every year 23,000 of those patients die.

The CDC estimates that more than half of the antibiotics given for upper respiratory infections and nearly a third of antibiotics used in hospitals are prescribed inappropriately. Kentucky has the highest prescribing rate for antibiotics in the outpatient setting in the U.S., Flinchum noted.

“It is critical to use these life-saving drugs when truly necessary, while also using the right drug at the right dose and duration to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics,” said Flinchum. “We encourage clinicians to improve prescribing habits and patients to ask their providers if antibiotics are truly needed for their care.”

Tips for smart antibiotic use:

  • Don’t insist on an antibiotic if your health care provider diagnoses your child’s illness as a virus.
  • Remember, antibiotics only treat bacterial infections.
  • Some ear infections DO NOT require antibiotics.
  • Most sore throats DO NOT require an antibiotic, unless it’s strep throat.
  • Green colored mucus is NOT a sign that an antibiotic is needed.
  • Take as prescribed, not doing so can cause antibiotic resistant infections.
  • Don’t save half-used bottles of antibiotics for future use.
  • Don’t share antibiotics.
  • Prevent infections by keeping your hands washed.
  • Get a flu vaccine.
  • If taking an antibiotic, call your doctor if you don’t see improvement within three days.
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