Doc Talk: Germ theory and making the best decision for your child's health

We talked one-on-one with a physician who's experienced with everything from emergencies to everyday illnesses.

Dr. Clint Pollack from Valley Children's Hospital is a pediatric emergency doctor. He has a few tips to help you make informed health decisions and get the best care for your kids.

  • For thousands of years, people thought that infections were caused by foul air or "miasma", which came from rotting/decomposing matter and swamps.

  • With the advent of the microscope in the 1600s, scientists were able to observe bacteria for the first time.

  • It took 200 years of observation and experimentation to convince the scientific community that diseases are spread by germs.

  • Hand washing and sterilization of surgical equipment only became prevalent in the late 1800s among medical professionals.

  • "Germ theory" states that infections are caused by microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

  • Infections are spread in many ways, but generally occur when someone touches an infected host, breathes air with infectious droplets, or eats food that has been contaminated with germs. That is why it is so important to cover your mouth when you cough and wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing, wiping your nose, or going to the bathroom.

  • Many microorganisms (trillions!) exist in and on our bodies without causing any harm. In fact, many of them, such as the bacteria in our intestines, are very helpful.

  • Most childhood infections are caused by viruses. These include common illnesses such as colds (upper respiratory infections) and stomach flu (gastroenteritis).

  • - There is no cure for viral infections.
    - Antiviral medicines (such as Tamiflu) do not "cure" a viral infection or "kill" the virus. They can help prevent infections in high-risk patients and may shorten the duration of the illness or decrease the severity of the symptoms.
    - Antibiotics do not affect viruses and should not be given for viral infections.

  • Many common pediatric infections can be caused by viruses and bacteria, including ear infections (otitis media), pink eye (conjunctivitis), and pneumonia.

  • Some of the most common pediatric bacterial infections are:

  • - Skin infections such as impetigo, cellulitis, and skin abscesses which can be caused by staph or strep bacteria.
    - Ear and throat infections.
    - Urinary tract infections, most often caused by E. coli.

  • Bacteria are usually killed by antibiotics, but it must be the right antibiotic, the right dosage, and be taken for a full course.

  • Resistance has become an increasingly serious problem facing medical professionals, as bacteria develop immunity to many of the most commonly used antibiotics. That is why it is so important to only prescribe antibiotics when absolutely necessary and to take a full course.

  • Childhood immunizations are an extremely important way to prevent infections among infants and children.

Here is the full transcript of our conversation with Dr. Clint Pollack:

Tony Cabrera: Welcome Dr. Pollock. Let's start with, you know, with kids going to school, going to daycare. There are so many germs that the experience or come across on a daily bases. What actually causes the infection in the child?

Dr. Pollock: So the majority of infections in kids are caused by viruses, Infections can also be caused by bacteria or fungi but things like colds and stomach flu where they get vomiting or diarrhea or a cold or an actual influenza where they have cough, runny nose, sore throat. Most of those are caused by a common viruses and the treatment, generally, is just symptomatic care. You want to give them lots of liquids, you want make sure they rest, you could give them Tylenol or Ibuprofen for fever or pain. The important thing for parents to know is that antibiotics will not help with viruses. They only help with bacterial infections.

Margot Kim: And so what can we do to prevent or kids from getting sick in the first place?

Dr. Pollock: The most important thing is hand washing because most germs are spread through contact and when kids wipe their noses or cough on their hand or they go to the bathroom and wash their hands carefully. You get germs on your hands and then when you touch a surface or you touch another person those germs are spread. So the most important thing really is hand washing and being careful when you are coughing and sneezing to cover your mouth, cover your nose, and wash your hands afterwards.

Margot Kim: So it's sometimes as simple as solution.

Dr. Pollock: It absolutely is.

Margot Kim: Alright and then viruses, like you said, cannot be treated by antibiotics

Dr. Pollock: Right and antibiotics only kill bacterial infections, most common bacterial infections are things like strep throat, ear infections, phenomena, skin infections like abscess, things like that and there is generally and those generally do need antibiotics. So if you are concerned that you child has one of those, you should see a doctor. But if you think it's a regular cold or a little bit of vomiting or diarrhea, most likely that's a virus and probably doesn't need to see a doctor.

Margot Kim: Just wait it out.

Dr. Pollock: Absolutely.
Copyright © 2022 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.