NPS MedicineWise urges child care centres to increase awareness around misuse of antibiotics in young children

NPS MedicineWise has written to child care centres across Australia to enlist their support in responding to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Child care staff are well placed to help with education and increase awareness around the misuse of antibiotics in young children.

This winter NPS MedicineWise is reminding Australian parents and carers that antibiotics don’t work on cold or flu viruses, and young children could be taking these medicines unnecessarily. Using antibiotics for ordinary cold and flu contributes to antibiotic resistance which is a growing public health problem.

NPS MedicineWise CEO Dr Lynn Weekes says that while awareness of appropriate antibiotic use is growing in the community, many parents under pressure to get back to work or to get their child back to child care are often still expecting an antibiotic prescription to treat viral cold and flu symptoms.

“No-one likes seeing a child unwelI with a cold or flu, but it is important for parents and carers to understand how to best manage their symptoms and that antibiotics aren’t a quick fix,” says Dr Weekes.

“In most cases, children just need rest and time to allow their immune system to fight the virus. Another common misconception is that antibiotics will speed up recovery from cold and flu viruses in both children and adults—but they don’t.”

Antibiotic resistance and children

With any course of antibiotics, there is a risk of developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Once they develop, antibiotic resistant bacteria can stay in the child’s body for up to a year and be passed on to others. This is another key reason why it is important to avoid antibiotics unless there is a bacterial infection that won’t clear up on its own.

Green snot

A common belief in the community and outlined in some individual child care centre guidelines is that if a child has green snot, they should be prescribed antibiotics. Green snot doesn’t mean an antibiotic is required. Green or yellow coloured nasal discharge can in fact be a sign that the immune system is fighting the infection, and not that a viral illness is getting worse.

Antibiotic side effects

Like any medicine, antibiotics can cause side effects. Common side effects include vomiting, diarrhoea, thrush infection and can also include allergic reactions (such as hives). Antibiotic-associated diarrhoea is particularly common in children taking a course of antibiotics.

If taken for a viral illness, antibiotics will not help the illness, but can cause damage to ‘good’ bacteria like those found in the gut. Scientists are only just discovering how gut bacteria affect overall health. It takes time for these good bacteria populations to regenerate in a child’s body after a course of antibiotics.

If parents are concerned about their child, they should take them to a doctor for a check up, but if the child has a viral infection, they should not expect the result of the consultation to be a prescription for antibiotics.

Dr Weekes said:

Child care centres are encouraged to promote to their families how to manage the symptoms of colds and flu without antibiotics, as well as check that their individual centre policies, such as excluding children with green nasal discharge, are not leading to any possible misuse of antibiotics.

“This winter we are encouraging parents to not ask for antibiotics for ordinary colds and flu,” says Dr Weekes. “It’s an important step to protect the miracle of antibiotics not just for their children, but also for future generations.”

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