What if all you thought you knew was incorrect about antibiotics?
The best way to ensure safe and effective antibiotics for your body is to follow the prescribed schedule, even if it makes you feel better.
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This simple message was propagated by doctors as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization.
A new editorial in the British Medical Journal this week is changing that idea.
How it all began
Although the “complete the course message” may have been a valid idea in the early days, it has not been widely adopted since.
Researchers used a 1941 example to illustrate this point. Scientists treated a man with penicillin for an infection, but the infection would reemerge and eventually kill him.
While overuse wasn’t a concern, undertreatment was. Short courses were considered to pose life-threatening dangers.
Doctors are refuting this notion now.
The study authors stated that although there was no evidence to suggest that resistance was the cause, the experience could have led them to believe that prolonged therapy was necessary in order not fail treatment.
“It’s wonderful that people are beginning to ask that question: Is it OK for us to stop sooner than our all been led to believe?” Dr. Carl Olden, a family doctor speaking on behalf of America Academy of Family Physicians.
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Olden explained to Healthline that even for people who need antibiotics due to bacterial infection, there are still risks.
While antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a serious global health concern, antibiotics are now being prescribed more frequently than ever.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that approximately 1 out of 3 prescriptions for antibiotics are not needed outside of a hospital setting.
Nearly 50 percent of total antibiotic misuse is due to incorrect dosage and length.
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What is the length of enough?
Researchers claim that the “complete-the-course” message is a fallacious belief that actively opposes responsible antibiotic use. It is too early to change this message.
Although there is a lack of data regarding the optimal “minimum effective” treatment for antibiotics, new research using randomized controlled trials could help to determine this.
Olden stated, “I wish there was more data on how long it is necessary to teach, and is it okay to cut courses because many of us have always hoped we could do better with shorter courses.”
It will be difficult to promote shorter courses in the future.
The first step is to conduct research to determine the minimum effective dose of different types of antibiotics.
The second phase focuses on how to best spread that message. The simplicity of the message “complete the Course” is part of its appeal.
Patients would need to hear from doctors that they are both safe and effective.
Unambiguous messages such as “take till you feel better” can cause problems in outpatient settings.
Olden stated that it can be important to consider what people are able to tolerate in terms of symptoms. “Maybe I can manage aching and coughing, but not fever or phlegm.”
Olden and the study authors both agree that there is more to this message than that.
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Olden said, “Try not to take antibiotics.” “Request shorter courses and ask yourself if it is necessary to take antibiotics.