Antibiotics are a great medical discovery. They have defeated many disease-causing bacteria, saved many lives, and helped to avoid potential serious complications of many diseases and infections.
However, antibiotics are only effective for treating infections caused by bacteria, however. For viral infections, antibiotics have no effect. If a person takes an antibiotic to treat a viral infection, it will not help, and it may harm, since it can lead to the phenomenon known as antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance, simply put, means that antibiotics that used to work to treat an infection no longer work. Over the past 50 years of widespread antibiotic use, many medications have lost their power to treat infections. Because of improper use and over-prescribing of antibiotics, some bacteria have mutated in order to outsmart the effect of these medications.
When bacteria become resistant to the effects of the antibiotic, different and usually stronger antibiotics need to be used instead. Eventually, doctors could run out of medications to treat these infections, leading to serious consequences.
Before the Hib vaccine was developed, up to 30% of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacteria, which used to be a common cause of meningitis in young children, had become resistant to amoxicillin, a commonly used antibiotic. Since the introduction of Hib vaccines, the number of Haemophilus influenzae type b infections caused by drug-sensitive and drug-resistant bacteria has decreased by more than 96% in infants and children. This has substantially reduced the need for antibiotics to treat these infections. So one possible solution to antibiotic resistance, at least for some bacteria, is vaccination. Vaccines can give your child immunity against bacteria that have become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat them.
There are other benefits to vaccination. For example, there is a vaccine against chickenpox (varicella) virus that indirectly works against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Children who get chickenpox may develop skin infections with bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus or group A streptococci, which may invade the blood stream. So, the chickenpox vaccine protects children not only against chickenpox, but also against infections caused by these bacteria, including those that are resistant to antibiotics.
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