Managing Winter Cold and Flu Season





Managing winter cold and flu season for young children

This winter NPS MedicineWise is reminding Australian parents and carers that young children could be taking antibiotics unnecessarily. This is in part because of a common misconception in the community that antibiotics work on common winter viruses. In fact, using antibiotics for ordinary colds and flu actually contributes to the problem of antibiotic resistance. NPS MedicineWise is working with the Australian Government Department of Health to respond to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Many people are misinformed

No-one likes seeing a child unwelI with a cold or flu, but it is important for parents and carers to remember that antibiotics only work on infections caused by bacteria, not those caused by viruses. In most cases, children just need rest and time to allow their immune system to fight the virus. Another common misconception is that antibiotics will speed up recovery from cold and flu viruses in both children and adults – but they don’t.

With any course of antibiotics, there is a risk of developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This means that antibiotics are no longer effective against the bacteria they once killed. Once they develop, antibiotic resistant bacteria can exist for up to a year. This is another key reason why it is important to avoid antibiotics unless there is a bacterial infection that won’t clear up on its own.

Ear infections

Ear infections are commonly associated with colds in children. In children older than 2 years, a middle ear infection will often get better by itself in a few days, as the body’s immune system can take care of the infection without any treatment. Children aged under 2 years, often won’t need antibiotics either, but may benefit from antibiotics if they have certain symptoms such as infection in both ears, fluid draining from the ear or if they otherwise seem unwell. It is important to remember that children of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin are at higher risk of repeated infections and chronic ear problems so should always be assessed by a doctor when they have ear ache. As pain is usually the worst symptom of ear infections, pain relief medicines (such as paracetamol or ibuprofen) are important to help with pain. Antibiotics won’t help to relieve initial ear pain.

Antibiotic side effects

Like any medicine, antibiotics can cause side effects. Common side effects include vomiting, diarrhoea, thrush infection and can also include allergic reactions (such as hives). Antibiotic-associated diarrhoea is particularly common in children taking a course of antibiotics. If taken for a viral illness, antibiotics will not help the illness, but can cause damage to ‘good’ bacteria like those found in the gut. Scientists are only just discovering how gut bacteria affect overall health. It takes time for these good bacteria populations to regenerate in a child’s body after a course of antibiotics.

Medicines Line
If you have any questions about medicines and children, call the NPS Medicines Line
1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424)
from anywhere in Australia for the cost of a local phone call (calls from mobiles may cost more), Mon–Fri, 9am to 5pm AEST.
Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We receive funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.