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    Infectious Diseases A-Z: Should you complete your course of prescribed antibiotics?

a pharmacy shelf full of medicine prescription bottles
Should patients take their full prescribed course of antibiotics or not? That question has been the subject of a recent article published in British Medical Journal. Dr. Rizwan Sohail and Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, infectious diseases specialists and members of Mayo Clinic's Enterprise Antimicrobial Stewardship Program, encourage health care providers to prescribe the shortest effective course of antibiotics for the treatment of uncomplicated infections. They say patients should be advised and encouraged to complete the prescribed course of antibiotics.

"The message that 'it is okay to not complete the course’ and that patients should stop taking antibiotics ‘when they feel better’ is too subjective and simplistic, and runs the risk of treatment failure with potentially serious consequences for patients," says Dr. Sohail. "While the decision to end antibiotic treatment early may be appropriate in certain cases, this is a decision best made in consultation between a patient and their provider and not left to a patient to determine on their own."

More research is needed to figure out the shortest length of treatment that will work for many types of common infections. Dr. Rajapakse says, "There are other things patients can do to decrease their risk of developing an antibiotic resistant infection like keeping their immunizations up to date and washing their hands frequently. Antibiotics will not help viral infections like colds, coughs, and most sore throats."

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