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What types of infections can antibiotics treat?

Antibiotics are medicines that only treat bacterial infections. Different medicines kill different types of germs. Antibiotics wouldn’t work on something like a cold because it’s caused by a virus, not bacteria.

Bacterial infections, in general, can be treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately it is sometimes hard to know if an infection is caused by bacteria (versus a virus or uncommonly a fungus). More typically, it's also difficult to know which bacteria are causing an infection, and that will affect your doctor's choice of antibiotic.

Here’s a general guide to when antibiotics are and aren’t warranted.

Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections, such as:

  • Most sinus infections
  • Strep throat
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Most ear infections (otitis media)
  • Nasty bacterial skin infections (impetigo)

Antibiotics are useless against viral infections, such as:

  • Colds and flus
  • Chicken pox (varicella)
  • Measles (rubeola)
  • German measles (rubella)
  • Roseola infantum (human herpes virus HHV-6 and HHV-7)
  • “Fifth disease” (parvovirus B19 infection, Erythema infectiosum)
  • Upset stomach/diarrhea (gastroenteritis)

From The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents by Jennifer Trachtenberg.

The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents

More About this Book

The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents

What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do! "Moms and dads need expert guidelines, especially when it comes to their kids' health. This book reveals the inside strategies I use myself-I'm a parent, too!-to avoid critical, common blunders where it matters most: in the ER, pediatrics ward, all-night pharmacy, exam room, or any other medical hot spot for kids. These tips could save your child's life one day. Even tomorrow." -Dr. Jen Making health care decisions for your child can be overwhelming in this age of instant information. It's easy to feel like you know next to nothing or way too much. Either way, you may resort to guessing instead of making smart choices. That's why the nation's leading health care oversight group, The Joint Commission, joined forces with Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg on this book: to help you make the right decisions, whether you're dealing with a checkup or a full-blown crisis. The Smart Parent's Guide will give you the information you need to manage the pediatric health care system. Dr. Jen understands the questions parents face—as a mom, she's faced them herself. She walks you through everything: from how to choose the best ER for kids (not adults) to when to give a kid medicine (or not to) to how pediatricians care for their own children (prepare to be surprised). Her goal is your goal: to protect the health of your children. There simply is nothing more important.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.