Doctors have always advised us to finish taking antibiotics that had been prescribed to us. New research now says that following this particular medical advice may be more harmful than beneficial.
If you've ever had to go to the doctor for some infection or another, you've probably gotten the same advice: finish all the antibiotic pills, otherwise they might not work. It's a rule that we've all heard and abode by, since following medical advice is after all important.
Researchers now say that though doctors were of course well-intentioned in advising this, they may have been wrong to do so. Doctors tell us to finish an antibiotic course because stopping it early may make the bacteria resistant to antibiotics. The researchers say that there is no evidence to support this. In fact, evidence supports the opposite of the claim—that finishing antibiotics can boost antibiotic resistance.
Why We Shouldn't Finish Taking Antibiotics
How did this rule about finishing antibiotics come about anyway? Back in the 40s, Australian pharmacologist Howard Florey conducted clinical trials on the then-new penicillin. Florey and his team injected doses of penicillin into a patient named Albert Alexander, who had a bad case of Streptococcus pyogenes infection. The infection went down during the course of the treatment, but Florey had been reducing the penicillin dosages he had been injecting into the patient. When the team ran out of penicillin, however, the infection came back and proved to be fatal for Alexander.
Thus, this may have led doctors to prescribe more antibiotics than necessary to fight off an infection. However, researchers say that in some cases, like tuberculosis, it's necessary to finish taking antibiotics. Stopping an antibiotic course too early would likely lead bacteria to form resistance against antibiotics—but just in these few cases. Researchers say that when the bacteria are in the gut or bloodstream, they're more likely to build resistance to antibiotics after longer exposure.
There also isn't much research on how long an anitbiotic course should be. The duration typically varies from individual to individual, and the antibiotics they have taken in the past also have some weight.
What Do We Do with Medical Advice?
The question, then, is how do we know when we should stop taking antibiotics? The researchers say that we should stop when we start feeling better. We can also undergo testing at the hospital to determine when we should stop taking antibiotics. These pieces of advice, the researchers note, is the opposite of what doctors and even the World Health Organization usually advise.
Of course, a number of medical professionals aren't all that comfortable with the findings. The bit about patients deciding to finish taking antibiotics is particularly contentious. After all, we may feel better, but it doesn't mean that we're well. Doctors feel that if patients take things into their own hands, it may be harmful to their treatment plan. Doctors are also concerned that these new findings might confuse people as to what they should do. Thus, for the time being at least, we can expect doctors to give the same medical advice as they've been giving for a long time.
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