Kansas City, MO -- As many as 10 million prescriptions are written for antibiotics each year when they are unlikely to actually help people. Infectious disease specialists say it not only wastes money but also threatens lives.
Caleb Moore is his usual self, but a few weeks ago, the 8-year-old Kansas City boy was very sick.
"He was just sleeping, he was sweating, he didn't want to eat, he didn't want to do anything," said his mother, Michelle Moore.
A trip to the emergency room revealed an infection in blood, bone and muscle that likely started after Caleb fell on his knee. It was MRSA, bacteria that are resistant to many antibiotics.
Resistance has resulted from unnecessary use of those drugs in America. Antibiotics are frequently used for colds and other upper respiratory infections that are commonly caused by viruses. Antibiotics don't help.
Dr. Mary Anne Jackson of Children's Mercy Hospital is an author of a new report for the American Academy of Pediatrics. It has stringent criteria for doctors to use in determining whether an infection is viral or bacterial.
"The second question is if it's a bacteria, does it actually need an antibiotic? And we're understanding there are some cases with ear infections and sinus infections where they don't," said Dr. Jackson.
Finally, if an antibiotic is prescribed, is it the best one for that infection? Dr. Jackson encourages parents to ask those questions to help insure that effective medicines are available when your child needs them.
"We certainly have a limited arsenal at his point for these antibiotic-resistant germs. There are not drugs in the pipeline and that's a scary problem also," said the infectious disease specialist.
The limited arsenal saved Caleb. His mother wonders what would have happened without those drugs.
"Oh, my God. He'd probably died. I don't know what I'd do without this crazy little boy," said Moore.
Nor do doctors know what they'll do if bacteria continue to outwit antibiotics.
Dr. Jackson says parents can also help by being very specific in describing your child's symptoms. That helps the doctor know if it's a viral or bacterial infection.