New age parents are a lot more aware about the latest in the medical field even if they may not be experts.
The good thing about this is that parents are more likely to catch a developmental issue or a dangerous infection at an early stage. But on the flip side, too much information can be confusing, especially since much of it is contradictory in nature.
The debate on antibiotic resistance is one such. Recent research suggests that the human population is increasingly becoming resistant to antibiotics.
What is antibiotic resistance?
‘Antibiotic resistance’ is when an antibiotic ingested by a person does not have any effect on the bacterial growth that it is meant to control or kill. The bacteria is ‘resistant’ to the antibiotic and continues to multiply in its presence. In other words, the bacteria has figured out how to defeat the pill’s arsenal.
How? One of the main causes is that we take way too many antibiotics and the bacteria that the pills are supposed to kill get used to it. Just like other living things, bacteria too adapt to survive.
Antibiotics are used to treat a wide range of infections. If they stop working against the bacteria in your body, medical procedures such as organ transplantation, chemotherapy, diabetes management and major surgeries become extremely risky.
Mumbai-based Jayalakshmi Parasuraman has a five year old son. She moved to India from France early this year. Jayalakshmi says, “Medicines are widely available in India with or without prescription and people tend to self-diagnose. In France, most medication is strictly monitored and a child under 6 would never be given medicines for symptoms alone, especially not antibiotics.”
Jayalakshmi says that she was shocked to see how easily parents in India give their children antibiotics, that too, without consulting doctors.
Are antibiotics evil?
Not if they are used for the right reasons. The first antibiotic to be used was penicillin. Since then, other penicillin-related antibiotics such as ampicillin, amoxicillin and benzylpenicilllin have been widely used to treat a variety of bacterial infections. In fact, the discovery of penicillin right before World War II saved millions of lives.
There are many new, modern antibiotics too.
Neelanjana Sengupta, Assistant Professor, IISER Kolkata, says, “I consider much of the paranoia surrounding antibiotic resistance to be kneejerk reactions to media hype. This comes from scantily understood medical research.”
Neelanjana’s son, Bihan, was a year old when he had some serious asthma-like symptoms. “In his case, we had to quell infections at the outset with antibiotics, otherwise his baby lungs may not have been able to handle the fluid deposition and so on. Fortunately, he got over it when he was three and a half, and now, antibiotics are not prescribed unless it is absolutely necessary,” she says.
Jayalakshmi, too, has given her child antibiotics: “I have given my child amoxycillin and that was only when it was clear that the infection was from bacterial causes - specifically, an ear condition. I resist giving him meds for everyday rises in temperature."
When should you go for an antibiotic?
First-time parents tend to panic when their child falls sick and turn to medication without allowing the body to fight back on its own. And worse, they may use wrong medication without consulting the doctor.
Jayalakshmi says, “What annoys me most is people giving medication for viral infections - viruses DO NOT respond to antibiotics.”
Stating that antibiotic resistance is a real thing, Jayalakshmi was careful about choosing the right paediatrician for her son: “I research my options. I’d like to caution parents not to trust a drug-happy doctor.”
Neelanjana is a much more relaxed parent now: “We would totally freak out if Bihan caught a cold when he was less than three years of age. Over the years, I have begun to trust my intuition, and on more than one occasion, have skipped the prescribed antibiotics for my child.”
Consulting a doctor is a must before giving your child antibiotics. Further, it is important to finish an antibiotics course once you have started it. Leaving the course mid-way will allow the bacteria to adapt, mutate and come back in a much more resistant form. And the next time around, when your child really needs the medication, it may prove to be ineffective.