Every year, your family probably faces its share of colds,
sore throats, and viruses. When you bring your child to the doctor for
these illnesses, do you automatically expect a prescription for
Many parents do. And they're surprised, maybe even angry, if they
leave the doctor's office empty-handed - after all, what parent doesn't
want their kid to get well as quickly as possible? But your doctor could
be doing you and your child a favor by not reaching for the
How Antibiotics Work
Antibiotics, first used in the 1940s, are certainly one of the great
advances in medicine. But overprescribing them has resulted in the
development of resistant bacteria, which are bacteria
that don't respond to antibiotics that may have worked in the past.
Plus, whenever kids take antibiotics they run the risk of side-effects,
such as stomach upset and diarrhea or even a possible allergic reaction.
To understand how antibiotics work, it helps to know about the two major types of germs that can make people sick: bacteria and viruses.
Although certain bacteria and viruses cause diseases with similar
symptoms, the ways these two organisms multiply and spread illness are
- Bacteria are living organisms existing as
single cells. Bacteria are everywhere and most don't cause any harm, and
in some cases may be beneficial. Lactobacillus, for example, lives in
the intestine and help digest food.
But some bacteria are harmful and can cause illness by invading the
human body, multiplying, and interfering with normal bodily processes.
Antibiotics are effective against bacteria because they work to kill
these living organisms by stopping their growth and reproduction.
- Viruses, on the other hand, are not alive
and cannot exist on their own - they are particles containing genetic
material wrapped in a protein coat. Viruses "live," grow, and reproduce
only after they've invaded other living cells.
Some viruses may be fought off by the body's immune system before they
cause illness, but others (colds, for example) must simply run their
course. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics at all.