When children get sick, most of the time, viruses or bacteria cause their infections. While viral and bacterial infections can have similar symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, and fever, a big difference between the two is how they are treated.
In this minute from the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, explains the differences between the two infections and why antibiotics don’t help and why they can even hurt s are taken to treat viral infections.
The most common circulating viruses for fall and winter, such as colds and flu, depend on the immune system to fight them off. So don’t expect your healthcare professional to prescribe an antibiotic.
Antibiotics do not kill viruses. Rajapakse said a common misconception she tries to dispel is that children with fever need to be on antibiotics before they can return to school or daycare.
“Giving an antibiotic to a child with a viral infection does not help him at all. It will not help him recover any faster and it may harm him,” Rajapakse said.
She added there was also the problem of overuse, which feeds antibiotic-resistant bacteria and makes infections harder to treat.
“We are trying to reduce the instances where this occurs in bacterial infections,” Rajapakse said. “If you have one, an antibiotic can be life-saving. And, so it’s things like pneumonia or blood infections, or bone infections, for example, where antibiotics absolutely have to be used. And in order to keep them effective for these types of serious infections, we really only need to use them when we know they will be effective and treat patients.”
For viral infections, anti-fever medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can reduce symptoms while the body fights off the virus.