Parents concerns about taking antibiotics
Taking antibiotics unnecessarily can cause bacteria to change so that they can no longer be killed by antibiotics which were once effective – they become “antibiotic resistant”. Resistant infections are more difficult to treat, making people more unwell for longer.
Deciding who will benefit from antibiotics is not always easy. Children who have a long term medical condition or disability may need antibiotics more frequently to help them recover from bacterial infections, such as chest infections and ear infections. Resistance vs ‘immunity’
The parents we spoke to were all aware that it isn’t a good idea to take antibiotics ‘too often’, saying that ‘obviously’ they preferred to avoid antibiotics. People had seen posters at their doctors, read articles in magazines and newspapers and heard from friends and family, as well as their doctors, that there was a danger from ‘overuse’.
However many thought that antibiotics should be avoided because the child might become ‘immune’ or ‘build up tolerance’ or ‘resistance’. As some of the parents knew, it is the bacteria, not the child that is in danger of becoming resistant; this is why reducing the use of antibiotics is so important.
Parents’ other concerns about using antibiotics included:
- Fears about what would happen when bacteria become resistant and we no longer have treatments
- A preference to fight infection naturally, with the body
- Concerns that the body may get overloaded with the various medicines the child takes for their long term health problems
- Antibiotics can cause digestive problems by destroying friendly microbes in the gut
- Worries that GPs (especially in the past) hand our antibiotics inappropriately, for example for viruses
- The necessity of completing the course of antibiotics once started, even if the problem has resolved
- Antibiotics are precious and should be reserved for when really needed, as the last resort
- Whether their child’s frequent use of antibiotics in their early years was storing up problems for their future health
- Age at interview:
- Clare works as a part-time teacher. She is married and has two children. Her daughter is 11 and her son is 9. Clare and her family are part of Unique, a charity for families with children who have a genetic condition. Ethnicity: White British.
Is antibiotic resistance something that you think about, or?
Yeah. I do. I do. I heard the news the other day about in China where they've discovered something which doesn't seem to be responding at all to any kind of antibiotic. And I, yes - I had a moment where I thought that's bad news. And when they say we're moving into a post-antibiotic era, that did worry me, because antibiotics have sometimes been the only thing that have worked for Eliza, so. And given also that she's somebody who's going to be having major surgery regularly through her life, and those post-surgery infections and so on that she's been treated for so many times, you know, if there aren't antibiotics I don't quite know what the alternative is. There doesn't seem to be anything at the moment that's in the pipeline, so. Does concern me a lot, yeah.
- Age at interview:
- Michelle has two sons aged 14 and 11. She is a full-time carer. Ethnic background: White British.
And, as I say, I’m not keen on them, if he does have a blood test and his CRP is less than 50 I’m not keen on them giving him antibiotics because I think he should be given to bite the bullet, if he’ snot showing any other clinical signs maybe other than sputum, you know, or whatever, then give him a chance to fight it off himself and build his own resistance up rather than just the first sign of anything is, we’ll give him antibiotics. And then a lot of the time they’re mis-prescribed anyway, so Jack has enterococcus water infection and she gave him amoxicillin and one of the consultants was like, “What is the point in that? As useful as a chocolate teapot”. So I’m a bit like, well, you know, if you’re going to give antibiotics it needs to be like a 21 day course to totally cover it. And I think a lot of the time they give you anti, they give you like a wide spectrum, so they might give you like amoxicillin or cefaclor for seven days or five days and it’s not going to do nothing with children like Jack who grow, who are known to grow, you know, quite resilient to bugs.
Parents we interviewed who wrongly thought that there was a danger of the child becoming immune if they used too many antibiotics. Others could not understand why GPs didn’t want to use them with their child. As one said, ‘I know for a fact that my boys haven’t been on them long enough to build a tolerance to the…. So I don’t see how. I could understand if you were in there every week saying ‘I want this, I want that’ ….’
It is the bacteria, not the child that is in danger of becoming resistant (immune) to the antibiotic. This matters because it shows that doctors need to explain clearly the reasons why they are trying to reduce prescribing. Doctors sometimes give a prescription but recommend waiting a few days before taking it, in the hope that the infection will clear up on its own. Ruth was given a prescription for antibiotics to take home and use if her daughter’s symptoms didn’t improve. Adam experienced the same at his GP and he agreed with this approach to managing antibiotic use for his son. Although parents had concerns about their children taking too many antibiotics they also accepted that sometimes they needed antibiotics to prevent them becoming seriously ill. Parents thought carefully before asking their GP for antibiotics. In some cases, they waited to be sure that the infection was not getting better before giving antibiotics to their child. Sharon tries to limit the need for antibiotics by increasing Henry’s asthma inhaler as soon as a cold begins and so hopefully preventing the infection from progressing. Taking antibiotics to prevent infections
Some children took a low dose of antibiotics every day to prevent infections. It is understandable, given the concerns expressed above, that parents of these children were initially worried about their child being on antibiotics long term. After being reassured by her son’s consultant Michelle felt more confident about Jack using them for prevention; she thought that the antibiotics had “kept him nice and steady.” See ‘Side effects of antibiotics’ and ‘Parent’s views on the benefits of antibiotics’.