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Shorter is smarter: Antibiotic resistance

Many people look to their doctor for everyday health needs, including treatments for common bacterial infections, such as a sinus or urinary tract infection (UTI). But while the antibiotics prescribed may help you in the short term, a longer course may cause resistance or other unwanted long term side effects. 

Antibiotic overuse has become a key factor in antibiotic resistance, which has become a global crisis. Yet research shows that primary care physicians prescribe antibiotics in 10% of all outpatient visits. And the longer the duration of antibiotics for common bacterial infections like a UTI, the more likely that antibiotic resistance will develop. We asked Shira Doron, MD Infectious Disease Physician and Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship at Tufts Medical Center, how to know if you are being prescribed the appropriate antibiotic duration and how to avoid developing antibiotic resistance.

What is the appropriate duration of antibiotics to be prescribed? 

The dosage of antibiotics may vary based on the infection and the antibiotic but a new guideline offers best practices on prescribing shorter-course antibiotics for some common infections.

Although there are exceptions for specific clinical factors, typically, a recommended 5-day antibiotics course applies for these four infections:

  • Acute bronchitis with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation
  • Community acquired pneumonia (CAP)
  • Urinary tract infections including uncomplicated kidney infection- could be as little as a single dose depending on the antibiotic
  • Cellulitis (skin infection)

Is a shorter dose of antibiotics just as effective?

A shorter course of antibiotics for many common bacterial infections has been found to be just as effective – and in many ways, a smarter choice -- than a longer course of antibiotics.

Shorter is smarter when it comes to antibiotic prescriptions

How do I talk to my doctor about whether the duration of antibiotics prescribed are appropriate for me?

Patients and doctors share the responsibility of antimicrobial stewardship. When your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, ask whether the recommended duration is as short as it can safely be. Also inquire as to whether you should “finish the prescription” even if you feel better, as prolonged antibiotics courses have just as much risk of creating resistance as too short a course. And remember: appropriate antibiotic use means prescribing the right antibiotic for the infection, in the right dose, for the right duration – every time.