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Warning On Use Of Antibiotics

The Centers for Disease Control is warning Americans of yet another rise in the number of cases of drug-resistant bacterial infections. CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports.

When antibiotics were first prescribed in the 1940s, they were hailed as miracle drugs. However, the constant use and overuse of these drugs over the decades has made some potentially deadly bacteria resistant to them. That is a dangerous situation that has already led to more hospitalizations and in some cases, death from infections once cured quite easily.

While the drugs can be lifesavers when used responsibly, they are often used inappropriately in caring for young children, who receive the bulk of the 145 million antibiotics prescribed each year.

Like millions of toddlers every year, 21-month-old Jimmy Cato was running a fever and probably had a virus. Like millions of concerned parents, his mother Laurie was worried enough to seek a doctor's advice.

Jimmy's pediatrician, Dr. Bonnie Fass-Offitt, knows that many symptoms of bacterial infection are similar to those of viral infections, for which antibiotics are useless. She also knows that even though nine out of ten children with symptoms like Jimmy have viruses, two-thirds will be given antibiotics anyway.

"The parents want something desperately to make their child feel better and the doctor wants to be able to help them," Fass-Offitt says. "I think that using antibiotics just to reassure everybody is what we've been doing for the past few decades, and we're trying to move away from that."

Jimmy's fever has gone down with the help of some aspirin, and the doctor determines that he is probably suffering from a virus and will not be helped by an antibiotic. Dr. Fass-Offitt advises Laurie to keep a close eye on her son's condition, but let the virus run its course.

The bottom line for parents is that a visit to the doctor is the best way to reassure yourself that your child is not seriously ill with a bacterial infection. As a parent, you should not feel that your child is being under-served without a prescription for antibiotics.

On the other hand, if a doctor is unsure about the cause of an infection, he or she needs to rely more on further testing like chest x-rays and perhaps blood tests rather than prescribing antibiotics as a "just in case" measure.

If you are interested in finding out more about what you can do as a parent to help reduce the risks of your child becoming susceptible to drug-resistant bacteria, there is a new book co-authored by Fass-Offitt called Breaking the Antibiotic Habit: A Parents Guide to Coughs, Colds, Ear Infections and Sore Throats.

The book goes into detail about how to tell the difference between a viral infection and a bacterial infection.

Reported By Dr. Emily Senay