Dell Horey, Maternity Alliance; and Helen Hopkins, Consumers' Health Forum

Dr Hewson's paper recommends a concerted medical and pharmaceutical campaign to warn against the indiscriminate use of medicines such as paracetamol to treat mild viral fevers in children. Perhaps a more appropriate focus for the campaign would be the safe and appropriate use of paracetamol in childhood illnesses, including information about other measures parents can use to help their child feel more comfortable while recovering.

Parents need the information in recommendations 2 to 4 of the paper. They need to know what dose of paracetamol to give, how frequently this dose can be safely given and how long they should continue treatment before consulting a health professional again. It is also extremely important that parents and other carers, including grandparents and other family members who might help to supervise a sick child, know the importance of checking the strength of the paracetamol mixtures and the correct dose. People need to be aware that too much paracetamol may be toxic. Stressing how important it is to store the medicine safely where children cannot reach it would reinforce the message about the possibility of harmful overdose.

Changing family and social patterns may mean parents are turning to their general practitioner or pharmacist for practical advice and reassurance that previously came from family or friends. As well as reminding parents about the appropriate use of paracetamol and the dangers of overdose, doctors may need to provide practical advice about other care measures. It is important that doctors check that parents understand what is really meant by directions such as 'keep up the fluids', 'sponge if they are getting too hot' and 'plenty of rest'. Parents want the best for their children, but they may need guidance about what that comprises.


Recognising serious illness in babies
Useful information for parents on how to recognise serious illness in babies has been prepared by Professor Peter Hewson. click here