James Sutton battled doctors for six weeks to get a ten-day course of amoxicillin for his severe bronchitic chest infection. When he got the antibiotics, they didn’t really work and, what’s more, he had a major allergic reaction which caused a huge outbreak of hives all over his torso, adding to his misery.
“No one seems to know any more what’s the right thing to do,” says Sutton, a 43-year-old fit and healthy publisher who cycles 18 miles to and from his office every day.
“For the past 50 years or more, doctors have been giving us antibiotics and telling us we must make sure we complete the course, then they started rationing them because of antibiotic resistance in the bacteria. Now we’re being told that doctors don’t really know how to use them either because there hasn’t been enough research, and that taking them for too long might be fuelling the rise of infection resistant superbugs.”
Ten senior scientists trawled medical literature and found that no studies have ever been done to support the ‘complete the course’ mantra
He was referring to last week’s report in the British Medical Journal declaring there is absolutely no evidence for the arbitrary lengths of time people are told to take antibiotics, which can range from two to ten days or even longer, and that it might be better for them to stop as soon as they feel better to reduce the global growth of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
The report has left many people baffled, and GPs have reported a stream of anxious inquiries from patients who are now unsure whose advice to believe.
The report came from a group of 10 senior scientists led by Martin Llewelyn, professor of infectious diseases at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, who have trawled the literature and found no studies have ever been done to support the “complete the course” mantra, which his group says goes against all common sense to stop taking medicines when you’re no longer ill, and probably assists the selective development of antibiotic resistant bugs by freeing up space in the body for them to colonise.
“There is evidence that in many situations stopping antibiotics sooner is a safe and effective way to reduce antibiotic overuse,” the report said. “There are reasons to believe the public will accept that completing the course to prevent resistance is wrong, if…