Why antibiotics won’t cure your child’s flu

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Special to The Dallas Examiner


The number of flu cases continues to climb as we reach the peak of flu season, a major concern for everyone, especially parents of young children at high risk for flu complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the influenza B strain that has dominated the flu season so far tends to hit children particularly hard. From Oct. 2018-Sept.2019, 1,080 patients under the age of 18 were diagnosed with flu.

“Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are just some examples of flu-related complications,” said Carolee Estelle, MD, Interim Chief of Infection Prevention at Parkland and Assistant Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Those 65 years and older, pregnant women, and children younger than two years old are more likely to experience these complications.”

Flu-related deaths have already been reported in children and adults in North Texas this flu season, according to Barbara Durso, MD, Lead Staff Physician at Parkland’s Oak West Health Center.

So far, Dallas County Health and Human Services has reported four flu-related deaths during the 2019-2020 season. In Tarrant County, two children have died from the flu. Although you can’t predict who will be affected the most, Durso said many patients who have gotten severely sick from the flu were healthy but didn’t get vaccinated.

“It’s better to prevent the flu than try to fix it,” Durso said.

As the season worsens, some parents are asking themselves ‘Can I give my child antibiotics to treat the flu?’ The simple answer to that question is no.

Antibiotics only combat infections caused by bacteria. Flu and most respiratory illnesses are caused by viruses that no antibiotic can treat, stated Durso.

“However, there is a specific antiviral medicine often prescribed for flu patients,” Durso said. “The medicine won’t make the child feel better but it will decrease the days they are sick and will help prevent spreading the illness to others.”

Some parents who have lived in other countries that permit sale of antibiotics over the counter tend to request antibiotics for their children from their pediatricians, Durso said. According to the CDC, 30 percent of all antibiotics prescribed in outpatient clinics are unnecessary. Research shows some patients are pressuring their physicians to prescribe antibiotics for conditions like colds and flu.

“That is why it’s important for me to take a few extra minutes to educate parents about antibiotics,” Durso said. “I explain why they won’t treat the flu and I stress how antibiotics could cause an allergic reaction, diarrhea, or a secondary infection if given to children with the flu.

“The best way your child can avoid getting the flu is to get vaccinated every year. Although we’re in January, it’s never too late to get the flu shot.”

As part of the Walk-In Wednesdays campaign, Parkland’s Community Oriented Primary Care health centers are offering flu vaccines. Dallas County residents can get their flu shot without having to make an appointment from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. every Wednesday throughout the winter months. For a list of locations, visit


In addition to getting vaccinated, Parkland pediatricians recommend following these tips to reduce the risk of children catching the flu:

  • Have children wash their hands frequently at home and school.
  • Make sure they stay physically active, get plenty of sleep and eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Help your child manage their stress.
  • Avoid contact with others who are ill.

For children who have the flu and are showing emergency warning signs like struggling to breathe, not getting out of bed, dehydration and/or a fever above 104°F, take them to the nearest emergency department. Parents or caregivers who are unsure if they have the flu, call your doctor before bringing them to the ED.



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