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The Informed Parent

Antibiotics: Friend Or Foe?

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Nov. 05, 2012


If you are a bacteria, antibiotics are NOT your friend. If you are a patient with a bacterial infection, antibiotics are unquestionably your friend as well as a needed ally.

The discovery of antibiotics was one of the major advancements in medical history. Prior to their discovery patients were crippled or even killed by bacterial infections. Strep throat (i.e. scarlet fever) would leave thousands of children with damaged kidneys, hearts and brains. Now strep throat, when treated properly, is not a terrible threat.

Bacterial pneumonia could leave the patient with scarred lungs before antibiotic treatment was available.

When a parent states a preference NOT to use an antibiotic I understand. Often antibiotics are prescribed inappropriately for a viral illness. But if a bacterial infection is strongly suspected, withholding antibiotics would be very ill advised. If a viral infection is present the use of antibiotics would be pointless.

Frequently I hear from parents, “I don’t want my child to become resistant to antibiotics.” In reality, the patient does not become resistant; only a bacteria can. Nevertheless, overuse of these agents can provoke the development of resistant bacteria in a community. That is why they should be prescribed for documented and suspected BACTERIAL infections.

Occasionally parents want a prescription for an antibiotic after two days of a runny nose. That is not advisable, because the vast majority of these problems is a viral infection. Administering antibiotics would only provoke the potential subjection of the child to side effects of the drug.

Without antibiotics our life span would be shortened. Remember, they are only extending life because they control bacterial infections. When used properly they are truly our friends. In fact, they are the “Marines or SWAT team” that allow our immune system to ultimately eradicate the infection.

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