You have been taking antibiotics for a sore throat, but after two days you feel better – except that the tablets make you feel sick. So must you keep taking them? Traditional wisdom is that failing to finish the course allows some bacteria to survive.
These will be the hardier ones that can resist the same antibiotic should they meet it again. So for your own good, and that of antibiotic resistance worldwide, you should keep taking the tablets.
But the article in the Medical Journal of Australia said there is a common misconception that resistance will emerge if a prescribed antibiotic course is not completed. They said that there was minimal risk in stopping antibiotics if the signs and symptoms of a mild infection had resolved.
Only for some conditions, such as tuberculosis or osteomyelitis, and other deep-seated infections where symptoms could improve even though the bacteria might still be flourishing, should patients continue taking antibiotics until they have finished the course or their doctor tells them otherwise. People who have problems with their immune system should also stick to the doctor’s advice.
Antibiotics change the normal gut flora very quickly – wiping out the indigenous, harmless bacteria and leaving the patient susceptible to resistant bacteria. So for individual patients, the less antibiotic they are exposed to, the better.
Doctors vary in the length of antibiotic regimes they prescribe, with five-day courses for urinary tract infection still being used even though the evidence shows that two to three days is sufficient for an uncomplicated infection.
So if you are given an antibiotic, first ask your doctor if you really need it, and then if you can stop taking it when you feel better.