SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

November 2018

Interview with an Antibiotic Pill

To many people, taking a course of antibiotics seems to be the solution to our coughs and colds. Some parents also request for antibiotics when not prescribed. Here at SingaporeMotherhood, we began to wonder what an antibiotic pill would say about all of this. To get the right answers, we decided to go straight to the pill in the centre of all the confusion.

Q: Good day, Mr Antibiotic! Could you start by introducing yourself?

A: Why, hello! I’m a special type of medicine that works against bacteria. I’m not alone, however. There are many different types of antibiotics in the world today, although we may work differently to kill bacteria or stop them from multiplying.

antibiotic pill - bacteria or virus

Q: Nice to meet you, Mr Antibiotic. So, bacteria are the bad guys then?

A: No, there are both good and bad bacteria in our bodies. But bad bacteria can make people fall sick. Like viruses, bacteria can cause mild to serious upper respiratory tract infections. That said, even though bacteria and viruses often cause similar symptoms, like coughing, sneezing and sore throat, bacteria and viruses are actually quite different. Antibiotics like me can treat a bacterial infection, but I’m sorry to say we don’t work against viral infections.

Q: Oh. Well, could you tell us more about viruses and bacteria?

A: Both viruses and bacteria can survive on surfaces outside a living host. These include viruses that cause the flu and common cold. For instance, when you sneeze into your hand and then touch a door handle, the next person who touches it may get infected. Viral infections are more common than bacterial infections too. And while some bacteria may be useful, there are bad bacteria that require medications. My job as an antibiotic is to target the bad bacteria that try to harm nice people like you.

antibiotic pill - fight

Q: So what diseases can you and your antibiotics buddies fight against, Mr Antibiotic?

A: We can fight against bacterial infections such as strep throat, tuberculosis and salmonella infection. Other common infections such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and ear infections can be caused by either bacteria or viruses, so that depends. For example, antibiotics work against intestinal infections caused by E. coli bacteria, but we’re not effective against gastroenteritis caused by the rotavirus, even though both may result in vomiting and diarrhoea.

Q: You mean you can’t fight the flu or the common cold?

A: Many upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold and the flu are caused by various types of viruses. Common ones include the rhinovirus and influenza. I’m afraid my buddies and I do not work against these viral infections. But don’t worry, these pesky viral infections tend to resolve on their own within three to 10 days. And your doctor will be able to advise you on the best course of action.

(See also: Coughing in Children: When Does My Child Need Antibiotics?)

Q: What about diseases such as HFMD (Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease) or dengue fever? They spread all over Singapore every year and my kids could get infected.

A: Sorry, antibiotics like me can’t do anything about those either. HFMD is caused by enteroviruses, and dengue fever is caused by an arbovirus spread by the Aedes mosquito. Make sure you see the doctor if you suspect you or your kids have HFMD or dengue fever. The doctor will be able to assess your children’s condition and recommend the best course of action accordingly.

antibiotic pill - overwork

Q: Mr Antibiotic, what would you tell Singaporeans if you could?

A: Please do not request for me if the doctor does not think I’m needed. Taking unnecessary antibiotics puts you at risk of side effects such as diarrhoea and allergic reactions. It’s important to use antibiotics right to prevent the development of antibiotic resistance.

Q: What does Antibiotic Resistance mean?

A: Each time people don’t use antibiotics right, bacteria get smarter and learn to fight back. As bacteria keep adapting and evolving, antibiotics like me become less effective against them. This is called antibiotic resistance. And it doesn’t only affect you and your children. It actually contributes to growing antibiotic resistance on a global scale! Don’t give bacteria a chance to evolve into superbugs — bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Infections caused by superbugs are harder — and sometimes impossible — to treat. This leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and… more deaths.

Q: So how do we know when we’re actually supposed to take antibiotics?

A: That’s simple — talk to your doctor! Your doctor will assess accordingly and recommend the treatment you need.

antibiotic pill - punch

Q: Okay, Mr Antibiotic, and thank you for all your advice!

A: No problem-o! Just remember: Always talk to your doctor on the right treatment for your child. Take antibiotics responsibly, and follow your doctor’s instructions.

To find out more, please visit

We’d like to thank Dr Chan Si Min, Head and Senior Consultant, Division of Paediatric Infectious Diseases, National University Hospital, for kindly speaking on behalf of the antibiotic pill.

This interview has been brought to you in conjunction with Health Promotion Board, Singapore. Photos of our ‘interviewee’ are also courtesy of HPB.

All content from this article, including images, cannot be reproduced without credits or written permission from SingaporeMotherhood.

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antibiotic pill - interview

Interview with an Antibiotic Pill