When your sick child really needs antibiotics—to treat a diagnosed case of strep throat, for instance—the medicines can bring quick, welcome relief. Unfortunately, extensive reliance on these miracle drugs has had unfortunate side effects. Today, antibiotics are overprescribed and put into everything from livestock feed (thus, our meat and dairy foods) to toys, lunch boxes, and upholstery. Overuse has helped create strains of bacteria that resist antibiotic treatment, raising serious concern globally. “The major contributor to antibiotic resistance is human use, particularly using these drugs when they are not needed, such as for viruses,” says Stuart Levy, MD, president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Experts caution to use antibiotics only when necessary—preferably after test results determine the specific type of bacterial infection—and exactly as prescribed (for example, finish all medication), so they’ll work when you really need them.

The best backup plan: Prevent infection with natural remedies. These six infection fighters have potent antibacterial and antiviral properties that can banish bugs—or help clear up common infections faster.

 

Probiotics

These “good bugs” improve microbial balance in the gut, not only helping fight off stomach bugs but boosting immunity overall.Children in a day-care setting who consumed drinks with the probiotic strain Lactobacillus caseihad 24 percent fewer gastrointestinal infections (such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting) and 18 percent fewer upper-respiratory infections (such as ear infection, sinusitis, strep), according to a recently published study. Also look for the effective L. reuteri strain in supplements, says Jenn Dazey, ND, who teaches botanical medicine at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington.

Dose: For prevention, regularly eat (or feed kids) probiotic-rich fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and miso.During antibiotic treatment, give probiotic capsules or powder at a different time of day from antibiotics. For infants, 100 million organisms may be enough; for older children, start with 1 billion organisms daily and gradually work up to 5 billion to avoid any gastrointestinal symptoms. Continue for two to four weeks after finishing the antibiotics course, to restore healthy gut bacteria.

 

Elderberry

Used for centuries to treat respiratory conditions, this honeysuckle family member can help shorten the duration of flu symptoms such as fever, fatigue, headache, sore throat, cough, and aches. It also may reduce mucus in sinus infections. “It’s antiviral, including against type A and B influenza viruses,” saysLinda B. White, MD, professor of herbal medicine at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Dose: Elderberry is available as a liquid, syrup, tincture, capsules, and lozenges.Children can take 2 tablespoons daily of elderberry syrup; 4 daily for adults, in divided doses.

Vitamin D

Adequate vitamin D levels may reduce the risk both for cold and flu viral infections in adults and for severe asthma attacks in children, according to two recently published studies. “Vitamin D boosts the immune system by helping white blood cells recognize and attack germs,” says Bob Sears, MD, author of The Autism Book (Little, Brown, 2010).

Dose: For infants and children, the recommended daily intake [DRI] for Vitamin D is 400 IU. That may not be enough if you’re deficient, says Sears: Get a blood test to assess your child’s vitamin D needs. Adults can take 1,000–2,000 IU daily.

 

Astragalus

Long used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this antiviral and antibacterial herb, a member of the pea family, has been shown to boost immune function and may help prevent colds and flu. Add dried astragalus root slices to homemade vegetable broth when someone in the family starts sniffling, says White. (Before serving, remove slices.) Avoid giving to a child with a fever because, according to TCM, it may prolong it.

Dose: Though often sold as dried slices or shredded root, astragalus is easiest to take in capsules or as a sweet glycerin standardized extract. Preparations vary in potency; follow label directions. Take daily as a preventative, or when you’re feeling run-down or symptoms crop up, says White.

Xylitol

This natural sugar alcohol occurs naturally in fruits and is also made in the body. Best known as a low-glycemic-index alternative sweetener, bacteria-fighting xylitol is especially effective against Streptococcus mutans, which causes tooth decay. Moreover, using xylitol gum, mints, or nasal spray makes it harder for germs to adhere to the mucosae of the throat and nasal passages, where many infections start.
Dose: Xylitol is available in powder, syrup, and saline spray forms, as well as in gums and mints (make sure xylitol is high on the ingredient list). For prevention in children ages 2 and older, give small doses throughout the day, up to 8 grams total. Excessive doses may cause diarrhea.

Olive leaf extract

The antioxidant-rich extract of olive tree leaves may help prevent upper-respiratory infections or shorten their duration. “It’s very antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant,” says Dazey. Take at the first sign of cold or flu symptoms. Gargling olive leaf tea helps sore throats.

Dose: Available in a tea, tincture, or capsules. For prevention, take 1 capsule or drink 1 cup of olive leaf tea daily, says Dazey.

 

When to take antibiotics

Severe ear infection: Acute otitis media (AOM) in children younger than 2 (or older children with complications) may need to be treated with antibiotics, especially if the child’s condition is getting worse. “Eighty percent or more of ear infections resolve on their own without antibiotics, so wait 24 to 48 hours to see if your child feels better before rushing her off to see the doctor,” says Kathi Kemper, MD, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and author of The Holistic Pediatrician (HarperCollins, 2002).

Strep throat: Strep should always be treated with antibiotics because there’s a risk of rheumatic fever and heart damage, says Kemper.

UTIs: Untreated or inadequately treated urinary tract infections can cause great discomfort, as well as kidney infection and possible scarring. “Kids with recurrent UTIs need a doctor's evaluation to make sure they don't have a congenital abnormality that predisposes them to kidney infections,” says Linda B. White, MD.

Bacteria versus virus

Antibiotics are powerless against viruses. Here’s how to tell which you have:

Virus

Bacteria

Colds

Strep

Flu

Urinary tract infections

Most coughs and bronchitis

Most ear infections

Sore throats (except strep)

Some sinus infections

Some ear infections

 

 

Source: CDC Get Smart

 

Infection fighter #1: Wash your hands

Hand washing with plain old soap and water is most recommended by doctors. On the go, use a liquid hand sanitizer that contains alcohol or antibacterial plant extracts such as thyme oil. Avoid antibacterial sanitizers with triclosan; these products contribute to antibiotic resistance.

·         Wet your hands with clean, running water (preferably warm) and apply soap.

·         Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.

·         Keep rubbing for 20 seconds—count or sing "Happy Birthday" twice.

·         Rinse hands well.

·         Dry hands with a paper towel or air dryer.

Source: CDC Clean Hands Saves Lives