|MadSci Network: Immunology|
Thanks for the interesting question. Although it is true that we over- use antibiotics these days – for both human and veterinary care, used responsibly, antibiotics are incredibly useful. Your colleagues are confused – leaving a bacterial infection will not develop a child’s immune system. Don’t forget, before the advent of antibiotics, children died from bacterial infections – sore throats could become very serious or even fatal. Bacteria are everywhere – on our hands, hair, on surfaces etc. Most of them don’t cause any harm. Your colleagues are perhaps confusing the issue of having a super-clean environment and children with immunological problems like asthma. There is evidence to suggest that keeping children in a too-clean environment doesn’t exactly help to give a balanced immune system. But that’s completely different from leaving children with a bacterial infection which could have serious consequences. Being exposed to bacteria in the environment is different from being infected by a bacterium. When you get a bacterial infection your body begins to mount an immune response very quickly and the immune system will remember these bacteria if it should come across it again to make a faster and better immune response. Taking antibiotics will not prevent the immune system from working – the antibiotics work by stopping the bacteria growing – not by stopping the immune system working. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics and in most cases, an effective immune response is made to the virus too – whether in the presence of antibiotics or not. Most upper respiratory infections in children are in fact viral and do not respond to antibiotics. The main reason to use antibiotics judiciously is to prevent antibiotic resistance from developing. People get an infection (whether viral or bacterial) and they often expect to receive antibiotics from their doctor – and some doctors comply even though they know that in all likelihood the antibiotics are useless. Patients who don’t finish the course of antibiotics or who don’t take them properly and even though they recover from the infection antibiotic resistant bacteria develop. These days, certainly in adults, doctors are trying to prescribe fewer antibiotics to try to stop resistance. If your child is sick and your healthcare provider suggests taking antibiotics then I should follow that advice. Leaving a child with a bacterial infection is quite risky. Of course the child may recover without any problems but perhaps not.
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Immunology.