Encouraging parents to ‘Think Twice’ about antibiotics
When you’ve been up with a sick child for a couple of nights, you’d give anything for them to feel well again. It’s common to wonder if you are doing enough, and whether they might need antibiotics – however they are not always the answer.
Through a lost prescription and an unexpected change of GP, Jess, mum of Jack, now 2 years old gained a new perspective on antibiotics.
Jack was born prematurely at 24 weeks and is more vulnerable to infections. As a baby, he developed a chesty cough and was prescribed antibiotics to help him recover. When his condition didn’t improve after the first course of antibiotics, Jess went to fill her repeat script and realised she had lost it. Unable to see the same doctor at short notice to have the prescription reissued, Jess ended up visiting a different GP.
To Jess’ surprise, this GP did not prescribe antibiotics. After a thorough physical examination, he diagnosed Jack with a viral infection and explained that antibiotics were only effective in treating bacterial infections. He was confident that in a few days, Jack would be back to himself again and gave Jess clear instructions on signs and symptoms to look out for and what to do if things got worse.
“The doctor gave me clear steps for Jack’s care, which made me feel more confident looking after him at home. And he did get better, and he didn't need antibiotics – I was so glad that I lost that repeat script,” said Jess.
Antibiotics are a group of medications that play a vital role in treating bacterial infections, however when used to treat common viral illness like Jack’s, they can do more harm than good, and contribute to antibiotic resistance. This resistance means that if we need antibiotics in future, they may no longer be as effective.
Research has shown that in Australia antibiotic prescribing is 4-9 times higher than recommended for acute respiratory tract infections. In Victoria alone, dispensing rates in children under 5 are higher than any other age group, equating to roughly 1 script per child per year*.
Jess understands why parents and caregivers are keen to try antibiotics to assist their baby or child’s recovery.
“When your baby isn’t well and not sleeping, the whole household isn't sleeping and everyone's tired and just want to get over it as quickly as possible. A lot of people just see antibiotics as the quick fix, however, it isn’t always,” said Jess.
In the last two years Jess has learnt so much about antibiotics and when they should and shouldn’t be used. She believes it is so important for all parents and caregivers to feel empowered to educate themselves, ask questions and work with their doctor to weigh the risks and benefits to support their child. Sometimes the best medicine really is just rest, increased fluid intake and the use of pain relievers to ease a headache or sore throat.
For Jack, who is immunocompromised, it is very likely that in future, he will need antibiotics to fight off an infection, and Jess is determined to do all she can to ensure this treatment works. That means for now, when it comes to common coughs, colds and childhood illnesses, where antibiotics are unlikely to be effective, Jess will ‘Think Twice.’
If you are a parent or caregiver, next time your child is sick, consider asking your healthcare provider the following questions:
- Does my child really need antibiotics?
- Are there any short or long term risks with the use of antibiotics?
- Are there any alternative treatments?
Safer Care Victoria is partnering with caregivers and clinicians to encourage them to ‘Think Twice’ about the use of antibiotics and consider both the child’s short and long-term health. This initiative will help to better manage childhood infections and ensure children receive the right treatment now, to prevent antibiotic resistance in the future.
Visit the Think Twice project page to find out more.
* Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care website, Australian Government, accessed November 2022 <https://www.safetyandquality.gov.au/our-work/healthcare-variation/third-atlas-2018/atlas-2018-1-neonatal-and-paediatric-health/12-antibiotics-dispensing-children-9-years-and-under>
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