We’ve been told for our whole lives that when you start an antibiotic course, you must finish it or risk antibiotic resistance in the future but new research released today has placed doubt on this and declared that the only way to reduce resistance is in fact to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.
According to the article by Martin J Llewellyn, information saying 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.
The study discussed in an opinion piece in The BMJ said ‘public communication about antibiotics often emphasises that patients who fail to complete prescribed antibiotic courses put themselves and others at risk of antibiotic resistance. For example, in materials supporting Antibiotic Awareness Week 2016 WHO advised patients to “always complete the full prescription, even if you feel better, because stopping treatment early promotes the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.”’ with similar advice appearing in national campaigns in Australia, Canada, the United States, and Europe. And in the United Kingdom it is included as fact in the curriculum for secondary school children.
With little evidence that failing to complete a prescribed antibiotic course contributes to antibiotic resistance, it’s time for policy makers, educators, and doctors to drop this message, says Llewelyn and his UK colleagues.
“Antibiotics are vital to modern medicine and antibiotic resistance is a global, urgent threat to human health. The relation between antibiotic exposure and antibiotic resistance is unambiguous both at the population level and in individual patients. Reducing unnecessary antibiotic use is therefore essential to mitigate antibiotic resistance.”
The article suggests a new approach could be struck in modern medicine that encourages people to “stop when they feel better” but in a quote to CNN, the co-author, Tim Peto, commented that there is not yet enough knowledge for doctors to know how long antibiotics should be prescribed for.
“We’re not at all saying that patients should stop when they feel like it or that patients should ignore their doctor’s advice,” Tim Peto, professor of medicine at the University of Oxford said to CNN.