There is a drug shortage of liquid antibiotics that are commonly used for bacterial infections. This means that the supply cannot keep up with the demand and some liquid antibiotics may not be available. Pill and capsule antibiotics are still available.

This page will cover:

  • When you should see a healthcare professional
  • When antibiotics are needed and when they are not
  • What antibiotic options are available

When to See a Health Care Professional

This list may not include all possible symptoms. Babies and children who may be at higher risk because of other medical conditions may need care sooner. Get emergency care for any symptoms that make you feel worried or concerned.

Check out Saskatchewan Health Authority Symptom Checker.

At Home With Children With Respiratory Infections PDF

When Antibiotics are Prescribed

Doctors, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists will make sure that your child gets the medicine they need.

If the antibiotic liquid prescribed is not available, there are several alternatives:

  1. There may be another antibiotic available that will work equally well. A pharmacist can contact the prescriber to make the switch.
  2. Tablet/capsule forms of antibiotics are available. Tablets can be split or crushed, and capsules can be opened and sprinkled. A pharmacist can help you do this safely.
    • Tablets and caplets can be crushed between two spoons or with a pill crusher.
      • Pill splitters and pill crushers can be purchased in pharmacies.
      • Use a pill splitter to help split tablets and caplets. Pill splitters help divide tablets and caplets into equal pieces and help prevent cuts and injuries.
    • To make the medicine easier to take, mix the medicine in small amounts (teaspoon or tablespoon) of soft foods (g., peanut butter, pudding, apple sauce, chocolate sauce).
    • To get rid of the after taste, offer your child something that they like to eat or drink after giving the dose.

Your child may be ready to learn how to swallow tablets or capsules. Here are two resources to help:

Effective Care Without Antibiotics: Not All Bugs Need Drugs

When are antibiotics needed?

In otherwise healthy children, viral infections (and some bacterial infections) go away on their own. A “watchful waiting” approach can be used: wait to start antibiotics and watch symptoms for a couple of days to see if they improve. If kids don’t get better in two days or get worse at any time, antibiotics can be started. It is best to not wait in some situations, including children who:

  • have severe symptoms
  • are immunocompromised
  • are at increased risk for complications from infections

Ask your doctor or nurse practitioner if an antibiotic is needed.

It is important to only use antibiotics when needed and to use antibiotics as prescribed. If people don’t use antibiotics properly, antibiotic resistance can occur. Antibiotic resistance is when bacteria change and get used to the antibiotics we use, and then antibiotics don’t work against them anymore.

Antibiotics may cause side effects like diarrhea, stomach upset, and may occasionally cause allergic reactions. 

Alberta Health Services has a program called Do Bugs Need Drugs with great information about using antibiotics wisely. It is available in 25 languages and gives symptoms and management options for many common infections.

Common illnesses that are viral and don't need antibiotics
  • Influenza
  • COVID-19
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Common cold
  • Gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”)
Common illnesses that might need an antibiotic

 See yellow flag/red flag symptoms for when to see a healthcare provider


Viral or bacterial?

Antibiotic needed?

Ear infection (otitis media)

Often viral

Healthcare provider will look deep into ears to look at ear drum and look for fluid

Sore throat (pharyngitis)

Usually viral; some cases are caused by a bacteria (Group A streptococcus)

Healthcare provider will do a throat swab to see if an antibiotic needed

Chest cold (bronchitis)

Cases in children are viral. Adults with COPD may have a bacterial infection

Not if viral infection

Sinus infection (sinusitis)

Most cases are viral

Usually only need an antibiotic if it’s been longer than 7 days of symptoms

Pink eye (conjunctivitis)

May be viral, bacterial, or allergic

An antibiotic may be needed if thick mucus and/or pus is present and keeps appearing even when wiped away

Urinary tract infection

Usually bacterial

Healthcare provider will determine if an antibiotic needed based on symptoms and testing

Managing symptoms

The following resources provide medicine and non-medicine solutions to manage common conditions like fever, colds, and influenza.

  • Caring for Kids: This website has pages dedicated to providing caregivers with information about common conditions and how to manage them.
    • Fever and temperature taking
    • Using over-the-counter drugs to treat cold symptoms
    • Colds in children
    • Influenza in children
  • Alberta Health Services Health Education and Learning: this website covers symptoms and treatment of conditions including fever, common cold, influenza, and ear pain. The site also provides printable handouts. The information is available in 4 languages.

About Drug Shortages

Drug shortages have been an unfortunate reality in our current health care system. There are many reasons for shortages:

  • Suddenly more demand
  • Trouble getting ingredients
  • Problems or delays with making the medication

Drug shortages are a problem. The government, everyone involved in the supply chain, and healthcare providers are all working to help manage them. 

To learn more about drug shortages in Canada, check out the Government of Canada webpage.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about medicine (including dosage, type, shortages, etc.) or non-medicine solutions, you should always ask a pharmacist or contact us.

Hours of Operation and More Contact Information

We will continue to add useful information here as the situation progresses. This page has been updated as of January 11th, 2023.