Health & Diet

Antibiotic Stay–the–Course Rule Challenged

Experts in England now advise that we should stop taking antibiotics as soon as possible

By Lola Augustine Brown

Photo: iStock/Dutko.

Ever since Sir Alexander Fleming gave us penicillin, doctors have been telling their patients that it’s imperative that they finish a course of antibiotics. We all know that we’re not supposed to stop taking our medicine just because we feel better. The idea is that stopping too soon could cause any remaining, by now antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to spread to others.

Wrong, says new research just published in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal). In fact, experts in England now say, telling patients to finish every course of antibiotic medicine is simply fueling the rise in antibiotic resistance. There’s no evidence, they say, that stopping too soon promotes resistance, while taking antibiotics any longer than you have to encourages it.

According to the new wisdom, the best way to use antibiotics is to take the smallest amount necessary for the shortest possible time.

The United Kingdom’s Royal College of GPs, perhaps not surprisingly, isn’t at all sure the new advice is good advice, expressing concern that changing the message to patients will confuse them and pointing out that feeling better doesn’t necessarily mean being cured of infection.

While some public health organizations have begun to change their guidelines regarding antibiotic use, there is still some debate. If your doctor prescribes a course of antibiotics, how much to take and for how long is something you should discuss.