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Antibiotic resistant bugs: How can my family avoid them?

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of germs to resist the antibiotics that doctors commonly prescribes for an infection. Here's what you can do to try to avoid these germs.

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of germs to resist the antibiotics that doctors commonly prescribes for an infection. In the past several years, antibiotic resistant has become more prevalent and parents are becoming increasingly concerned that their child may get such an infection. Should you be concerned? How common are these bugs and how much of a threat are they? What can you do to avoid getting them? Most of these questions can be answered if you are familiar with the nature and cause of this problem.

What are the antibiotic resistant bugs?
They are all kinds of bacteria such as the ones that cause skin (staph) and ear infections (pneumococcus), viruses such as influenza, and molds such as Candida which usually only occur in children that have immune deficiency.

How do bugs become antibiotic resistant?
Germs become antibiotic resistant either randomly or because they are exposed to antibiotics too frequently due to misuse of antibiotics by doctors or use of antibiotic in farming and animal feed. Animals and fowl are given antibiotics as a feed additives because it makes them grow bigger. Sometimes antibiotic resistant germs are spread from animals to humans if we eat antibiotic-fed meat or poultry.

What is MRSA?
MRSA is a bacterial germ called staph that commonly causes skin infections such as boils and abscesses. This staph bacterium has become resistant to certain antibiotics of the methicillin family (MRSA is short for methicillin resistant staph). It has become the most common germ for skin infections. Fortunately, most boils resolve when they are drained and we still have antibiotics that work well for MRSA skin infections. In fact, one study has shown that draining boils is as effective as getting antibiotics. However, some MRSA germs that are acquired in hospitals (as opposed to the ones we get at home) are nastier and harder to treat. These infections occur when a person is hospitalized.

What can you do to prevent these antibiotic germs?

  1. You can ask your child's pediatrician if an antibiotic is necessary for ear infections, colds and sinus infections. Antibiotics help shorten the duration of ear infections and sinus infections, but not by much. Most ear infections and sinus resolve on their own just fine without any treatment. Pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen are more important in most ear infections to control pain. Colds are not helped by antibiotics no matter how nasty they are and how bad your child feels.

  2. If you do take an antibiotic for an infection, finishing the whole treatment course even if you feel better after a few days may prevent antibiotic resistant bugs.

  3. You can buy meat and poultry that are raised antibiotic-free.

  4. You can use regular soap instead of antimicrobial soap as washing with regular soap is as effective in preventing infections.

  5. Get vaccinated. Germs do not develop resistance to vaccines. In fact, vaccines may decrease the occurrence of antibiotic resistant germs.

In short, antibiotic resistant bugs are a threat, but they are often manageable. We also can significantly decrease our children's risk of getting such bugs by vaccinating them, insisting to our doctors to use antibiotics only when necessary, and eating antibiotic-free foods.

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