We are now told there is no basis to the advice that we complete an antibiotic course after we feel well again. The British Medical Journal reports on what appears to be the first scientific look at this , which discovered that prolonged exposure to antibiotics makes any lingering microbes more likely to develop resistance. I was five years old when I had my first exposure to antibiotics, listening in to my mother having a rant about them to her friend. They were new then and she didn’t like them. The next day, in school, I fell from a climbing frame in the playground and hurt myself enough that they wanted to give me a tetanus shot. I was sure they were trying to dose me up with antibiotics and wouldn’t let them. They told me I might get lockjaw, whatever that was, and I still refused, convinced they were duping me. For a few years I wondered if my mouth might suddenly lock into a position but it never happened.

I eventually came to realize that antibiotics do have a place in medicine, and an important one. This very importance means that in many cases they should not always be the first resort. At the age of 19 I came down with pneumonia during a period of suppressed stress. At the time I was fanatically macrobiotic and tried all manner of natural means to overcome the infection, including being wrapped up in a cold blanket – none worked. After a week, and two days with a fever at 40.5C, (105F) I said yes to antibiotics. In two days I was feeling fine again and stopped the pills a day later. Still, the main reason I avoid blue cheese is because they used to say it was just as harmless as antibiotics. which I do not put on toast for the taste.

Every five years or so I may have need of antibiotics and have always stopped as soon as the problem passed. My logic is that when an attacking army of microbes has been knocked out there will be a few nearly dead stragglers staggering about. By letting my body’s now dominant defenses finish these ones off I seek to develop resistance.

The current scientific discovery gives a valid, though mirror, explanation to the logic I used to explain my instinct. According to them, the longer the lingering bacteria are exposed to antibiotics the more resistant they become. As they say in the review “Far from being irresponsible, shortening the duration of a course of antibiotics might make antibiotic resistance less likely.”

Professor Martin Llewelyn and a high-powered group of colleagues have come out in the face of decades of stern advice from health professionals – advice that is not evidence based. Am I surprised? No. Clearly, the pharmaceutical companies benefit from this and perhaps they were deviously involved in the propagation of this myth. Then again, maybe it was just doctorial dumbness, sticking to the status quo.  I expect we will see an orchestrated rebuttal of the case against antibiotic course completion, backed by a well-rewarded team of so-called “independent” medical researchers. Big Pharma is good at destroying careers and debunking sound research. I do hope Prof Llewelyn has good ammunition for the fight that may come.


 

Addendum to the above: The world’s largest consumers of antibiotics are farm animals, consuming 70% of America’s output, even more in Spain and Italy, far less in the Nordic countries and Australia and New Zealand (China is another story). It is in their feed, every day, to protect “health” in the overcrowded filthy conditions of most factory farms. This constant contact allows pathogens to develop resistance. Antibiotics also promote growth rate, fattening animals up faster for slaughter and giving farmers a financial incentive to use them.

 

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