General Rule About Antibiotics Might Be Wrong

Finishing courses of antibiotics may boost resistance risk: experts
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 27, 2017 11:02 AM CDT
General Rule About Antibiotics Might Be Wrong
A pharmacist holds a bottle of the antibiotic doxycycline hyclate in Sacramento, Calif.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

You've heard the spiel: Always finish your course of antibiotics, even if you feel better sooner. The idea is that even though you may feel better, the harmful bacteria in your body needs to be completely wiped out to keep it from developing antibiotic resistance. But that might be entirely wrong, reports the Guardian. "The idea that stopping antibiotic treatment early encourages antibiotic resistance is not supported by evidence, while taking antibiotics for longer than necessary increases the risk of resistance," UK experts in infectious diseases write in an editorial in the British Medical Journal. They cite previous trials to suggest courses of antibiotics lasting three to five days may be just as effective as longer courses at eradicating most bacteria, like E. coli, though they acknowledge more studies need to be done.

They also note there are exceptions—tuberculosis, for example—that require longer courses. But they argue most long courses of antibiotics are prescribed out of an abundance of caution and raise the risk that bacteria will develop resistance. The chair of the UK's Royal College of General Practitioners agrees more research is needed: She tells the BBC she "cannot advocate widespread behavior change on the results of just one study," as courses of antibiotics are designed for individual conditions and "improvement in symptoms does not necessarily mean the infection has been completely eradicated." A CDC official tells Scientific American that antibiotics should only be stopped early on the advice of a doctor. (Watch out for these drug-resistant bacteria.)

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