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The Pros and Cons Of Not Taking All Of Your Antibiotics


A group of researchers in the United Kingdom argues the standard medical advice of completing a course of antibiotics may do more harm than good. Most doctors believe it's become standard advice for a reason.

In their recent analysis, the doctors argues insistence on always completing a course of antibiotics may eventually lead to overuse of antibiotics and increase the risk of antibiotic resistance. 

Dr. Melita Williams disagrees. She's an internist with Texas Health Plano and Inova Family Physicians.

Interview Highlights

Why it’s best to complete the course: “For the most part, we encourage patients to complete their antibiotics through the entire course of the prescription in order to prevent the infection from recurring or having a rebound effect from bacteria that did not get destroyed or killed through the process of taking the antibiotics, and ending up causing antibiotic resistance.”

Is it really bad to stop? “It’s understandable that some would think ‘I don’t need this antibiotic anymore because I’m feeling better,' but the entire process of getting over that infection may not necessarily be resolved.”

Feeling better isn’t always enough: “There may be a period of time when they feel totally well, but they’re actually sick and could actually be spreading that infection to other people.”

On prescribing shorter courses: “Each patient is different. Someone’s immune system may be able to get over an infection within two to three days with the same antibiotics. And some may start feeling better only after about five days. And so it depends on the individual’s immune system, where they start before they got sick and as to how well they’ll recover. And also the things that they’re doing during the process of that healing in order to allow that immune system ward off that infection.”

Best overall course of action: “Eat healthy foods, preferably real foods like fruits and vegetables. Get adequate clean water and actually get the appropriate amount of sleep and rest. Your immune system is designed to protect you and ward off infections from viruses, bacteria and fungus, and when given the appropriate tools and nutrition and rest, the body can help heal itself and prevent you from getting sick.” 

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.