Despite public opinion, the vast majority of infections will go away on their own. Somewhere along the way we developed the misconception that our bodies are unable to deal with an infection without antibiotics. With very few exceptions, this is very far from the truth.
I can almost hear the tremble of fear when parents talk about the notorious Strep infection. Many would probably not even be able to tell you why Strep can be so dangerous. The irrational fear is that Strep can cause rheumatic fever and heart valve damage, and so must be treated with antibiotics immediately. However, the current belief is that the development of rheumatic fever is not directly related to the bacteria itself, but rather a cross-reactivity by the immune system. Further, up to 1/3 of rheumatic fever patients had no noticeable infection prior to its development.
So what does this mean? Certainly rheumatic fever can be life-threatening. However, it is rarely seen in developed countries. In addition, studies have shown that antibiotics will reduce the progression to rheumatic fever by a paltry 1.67%. Hardly seems in congruence with the nationwide fear of Strep infections. Overall, it seems like, if a Strep infection is going to progress to rheumatic fever, the odds are that it’s going to and there may be little we can do to stop it.
And why the diatribe anyway? Because antibiotic use is massively inappropriate and, despite researchers literally screaming to cut back on antibiotic use in our kids, nothing has changed. Prescriptions for antibiotics are still prescribed in 21% of pediatric visits, and the bulk of these were inappropriately prescribed.
So what’s the big deal? So what if a few extra prescriptions for useless antibiotics get thrown around?
I have said before that I believe that the indiscriminate destruction of healthy, protective bacterial flora in the gastrointestinal system by wanton antibiotic use is one of the worst things we can do to a developing infant, toddler or child. The list of problems is endless and ranges from allergies and asthma to obesity to autoimmune diseases that can rip apart the gut later in life.
This particular article looks at the prevalence of the superbug MRSA in those who have been prescribed antibiotics. At the crazy far end of the spectrum, with greater than 4 courses of antibiotics in the prior 5 months, the risk of developing MRSA was 1800 times higher. And in any child who’s had that many courses of antibiotics in 5 months, there are serious health problems, on top of which a MRSA infection would be a very, very bad thing.
Bottom line is that antibiotics should always be an absolute last line of defense. Any courses of antibiotics should ALWAYS be following with probiotics. And we should do everything possible to keep the immune systems of our little ones functioning at the optimal levels with good quality foods and lifestyles.