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Finishing a course of antibiotics

Finishing a course of antibiotics

A study has suggested patients should stop taking antibiotics when they feel better, but could this be playing into the bugs’ hands?

If GPs had a pound for every time they have tripped out one particular phrase, they would probably say they would be very rich indeed.

When prescribing antibiotics, it is long-embedded in both their practice and the general public’s mind that the guidance will be to take every last pill, even if your symptoms have disappeared and you are feeling better. The reason for that? To ensure all bacteria causing the issues have been killed off.

However, a recent study argues this is wrong and in fact, could be more likely to lead to the greatest threat to medicine today: antibiotic resistance.

It agrees some organisms could mutate if not completely destroyed by drugs and therefore a longer course is the right action in some cases. But many more clever bacteria, which live on our skin, only cause an issue once in the bloodstream or gut and therefore giving them greater opportunity to learn an antibiotic’s structure and how to become immune to it with elongated courses could be detrimental.    

Benenden Hospital Pharmacist Lesley Grice certainly welcomes the discussion and further research into the ideal prescribing time, but urges caution and asks patients not to take the matter into their own hands simply off the back of this study as protecting the effectiveness of antibiotics is paramount.

She said: “This was a well-publicised story in the media on a relatively slow news day and therefore the advocates for it had an opportunity to speak up. But this is still disputed by many other experts and could lead to confusion.

“Medicine needs to be evidence-based with clear messages from the likes of England’s Chief Medical Officer, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the World Health Organisation. They are constantly reviewing the protocols, but the existing policies are in place and the advice remains the same.

“Of course, we do not want people taking antibiotics longer than they need to. There are the side effects and the cost implications.

“A new antibiotic has not been found for 15 or 20 years. We do not want superbugs becoming resistant to the strongest drugs as we will then be in a position where we cannot perform routine hip or knee surgeries for example as the risk from being unable to treat an infection is greater than that of the operation itself. We would only be doing emergency cases.”

The movement to safeguard medicine against its biggest hazard is a worldwide initiative. And Lesley is playing her part at Benenden Hospital by serving as an ‘Antibiotic Guardian’, a role replicated at hospitals and healthcare settings across the globe.

She oversees the process which ensures medical practitioners at Benenden Hospital prescribe according to agreed formulas. All data is fed centrally to the Government and shared across the world to promote consistency.

Find out more about our Pharmacy services and our membership of the Antibiotic Guardian scheme.

Published on 03 August 2017