Emma, my 4-year-old daughter, recently had what I suspected was an ear infection – then she started having drainage out of the ear, which has been typical for her. Ear infections are typically caused by viruses so I did not think it was necessary to take her to the doctor. We were just keeping her as comfortable as possible at home. She was feeling better so we sent her to preschool, but shortly after school started, I got a phone call from her preschool teacher.   

“Dr. Odland, what is going on with Emma’s ear?” I explained what I believed was happening. Then the teacher shared with me that “impetigo” had been diagnosed in another student and Emma’s ear looked like what she had seen on the child with Impetigo. So, we scheduled a doctor’s appointment!  And sure enough, the doctor agreed that the rash appeared to be “Impetigo,” which is a bacterial skin infection that can spread through skin-to-skin contact.

While we were waiting in the lobby for our doctor appointment, I picked up a pamphlet that was titled “Do I Need Antibiotics?” 

As a veterinarian, this is a topic that I talk to farmers about quite often so it caught my attention. The three key messages that I talk to farmers about and were emphasized in the pamphlet are 1) Make sure to follow your veterinarian/doctor’s directions on dose and duration, 2) Antibiotics help treat bacterial infections but cannot treat viral infections (which is why I didn’t bring Emma to the doctor in the beginning of my story), and 3) The goal for responsible antibiotic use is to keep antibiotics working (said another way, to reduce the risk of developing antibiotic resistance).

Because this was a bacterial infection, our doctor prescribed an antibiotic for Emma. After a quick trip to the pharmacy, we headed home. At the risk of sounding OCD, I will share with you that I actually created a chart when we got home to make sure that we were treating her at the right frequency and for as long as the doctor had prescribed. When you have a crazy schedule where sometimes I am giving the medicine, sometimes my husband is and sometimes our daycare provider is treating her, it was important for me to have a chart! By the end of filling out the chart, Emma was feeling better and I was confident that she had gotten the medicine she needed.

Why Is This So Important?
What happens if we don’t follow our doctor’s directions?

Emma was supposed to take the medicine four times per day for 10 days, and if I had shorted her on the number of times per day or duration, there is the potential that some of the bacteria would not have been killed. Sometimes this can lead to bacteria that become resistant to the antibiotics that have traditionally been effective. As these resistant bacteria spread throughout a population, the bacteria will not die or their growth will not be stopped by the antibiotic.

Each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. So, using antibiotics responsibly is an important step in ensuring antibiotics continue to be effective.

As a veterinarian, I talk to farmers about this same scenario and work with them to make sure they are following my directions for their animals. The farmers I work with record their treatments for their animals like the slightly crazy chart I created for my daughter! Recording our antibiotic use and then reviewing this data over time is an important part of our Health Program on our farms.

Moral of the story: whether you’re a farmer working with your veterinarian, or a mom working with her sick daughter’s doctor, follow the prescription so we can ensure antibiotics remain effective for future generations.