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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Nursing professors say communication key to properly medicating children

Communication between parents and health-care providers is the key to properly medicating children, said Jacalyn Ryberg, a pediatric nursing professor at New Mexico State University.

ith your health-care provider. It's a team effort. Antibiotics are not always the answer," Ryberg said. "It's hard not to go in demanding something to make your child feel better as quickly as possible, but if the health provider is not convinced it's a bacterial infection, give it a day or so of watchful waiting."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a consortium of national health organizations announced in September a new campaign to urge consumers to be cautious about their use of antibiotics. Health officials stressed that antibiotics are ineffective treatment for viruses, such as those that cause colds and flu, and that inappropriate antibiotic use -- particularly among children -- is contributing to an alarming growth of global antibiotic resistance.

"There is an art to determining whether to give antibiotics," said Joanne Hess, an NMSU nursing professor with a clinical background as a nurse practitioner. "Health-care providers recognize that parents' concern for their child's safety and comfort can cause them to push for antibiotics, so we try to make sure they don't feel abandoned when we feel that antibiotics are not the best treatment."

Ryberg and Hess said antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections only, but often parents think antibiotics are needed whenever their children are sick.

Ryberg said she tries to work with parents to encourage them to wait maybe 48 hours and try comfort measures to help children feel better. Hess said she often likes to make follow-up phone calls to parents who did not receive antibiotics to monitor the progress of the ill child.

"You really have to look at the whole family and their beliefs," Hess said.

Ryberg agreed, saying she encourages her nursing students to be aware of multi-generational, cultural and even geographical factors. Often families in the Southwest self-medicate with antibiotics that are available across the border. People who take antibiotics when they don't need them can increase their resistance, she said.

Antibiotic resistance can cause significant danger and suffering for children and adults who have common infections that were once easily treatable with antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a partner organization on the new campaign to reduce overuse of antibiotics, the last decade has seen almost every type of bacteria become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment.

The CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and an alliance of partners including national health organizations, state and local health departments, managed care organizations, pharmaceutical companies and other groups concerned about this problem, hope to reverse the public perception that "antibiotics cure everything." The public health campaign "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work" will include television, radio and print public service announcements in addition to outreach programs.

Ryberg and Hess said the campaign should add to other efforts to educate the community about the proper use of antibiotics, but nothing is as effective as communication between parents and health-care providers.

More information about this campaign and antibiotic resistance is available at http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/.