For that nasty case of bronchitis, the doctor recommended a 10-day course of antibiotics, but you’re feeling much better after just five days. Is it still necessary for you to take your medication? Isn’t it easier to avoid taking drugs that you don’t require?
Antibiotics are effective medicines that are used to treat bacterial infections such as strep throat, ear infections, and urinary tract infections, but they are useless against viral infections. When you have an infection like the common cold or flu, taking an antibiotic won’t benefit you and, worse, it could hurt you.
Your doctor evaluates your symptom history to decide if your infection is infectious or bacterial when you visit the doctor. He or she will consider the organ system compromised if you have a bacterial infection that requires antibiotic treatment. Since different parts of the body harbor different types of bacteria that are common to that region, doctors prescribe antibiotics that are likely to be effective there.
So, just because you’re feeling better after a few days doesn’t mean any of the infection that made you sick has vanished. Antibiotic resistance, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is a significant public health problem that affects more than 2 million people per year.
Let’s face it: when you’re going to do something twice a day for two weeks, it’s easy to forget about it at least once. So, what do you do if you forget to take your antibiotics? That is contingent on how long it takes you to realize your error.
You can miss the next dose if you are more than 50% of the way into the current one. So, if your antibiotic is supposed to be taken every 12 hours, you might take it if it’s less than six hours before your next scheduled dose. If it’s been more than six hours, simply take the next dose when it’s due, knowing that the therapy will need to be expanded to accommodate the missed dose.
A growing body of research finds that telling patients to finish a full course of antibiotics even if they’re already feeling better not only fails to prevent drug-resistant “superbugs” from forming, but also might make those pathogens stronger.
The latest evidence comes from a study published this week in the journal BMJ by a group of British scientists. That team joins an expanding chorus of experts who said there’s no scientific support for the conventional wisdom, first adopted in the mid-1940s, that long courses of antibiotics help prevent bacteria from developing immunity to many or most of the weapons in the antibiotic arsenal.
In reality, these researchers said, the longer antibiotics are used, the more collateral damage is done to the body’s community of helpful bacteria — and that in turn gives resistant strains of bacteria, always present in the human body in small numbers, room to flourish and share their defenses with other pathogens, gradually leading to the superbug strains now estimated to kill 23,000 Americans per year and sicken more than 2 million.
To summarize, doctors should recommend an antibiotic course that is as short as possible to treat the bacterial infection. If you feel absolutely well before the end of the course, you can contact your doctor and see if it is safe to quit sooner.
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