Researchers at the University of Southampton have conducted a pair of studies that could be vital in the ongoing struggle of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Antibiotic resistant bacteria have been around for quite some time, but as antibiotics become more widely available and prescribed more frequently, strains of bacteria that are resistant to these treatments are becoming commonplace.
There is a worry that sometime in the future, bacteria will mutate and be resistant to all treatments, meaning that people could die from previously easily treatable diseases. There have already been reported cases of this, including one women who died from an infection after breaking her leg. She had 26 different antibiotics prescribed to her, all of which had worked in the past but had no effect on her.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised the importance of tackling the issue with this statement:
Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.
Professor Michael Moore led both of the Southampton studies, which followed thousands of patients who visited their GPs for a sore throat. They discovered a couple of techniques that will help humanity fight this issue by reducing people’s exposure to antibiotics.
The first study investigated the practice of prescribing antibiotics but telling the patient to wait a few days before they took the medicine. Patients said that they felt reassured by the fact that they had the prescription and could use it if they didn’t improve, but in most cases the infection passed and the number of patients taking antibiotics decreased. Only patients with infections that needed antibiotics actually took the course.
The second study found that there is statistically no difference between taking a 10 day course of antibiotics or a 5 day course. Thus, people could take antibiotics for a shorter period of time, and so the reduce the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria from developing.
However, with this research only just being published, further research into the topic is needed. Professor Moore added:
It does not appear from this data that shorter courses lead to more prolonged symptoms or a higher risk of needing a second visit to the doctor. Adopting shorter courses could be an effective strategy to reduce exposure to antibiotics. However it is important to test this theory further in controlled trials before GPs guidelines are amended to recommend shorter courses.
This is only part of the solution, researchers all around the world are going to need to work together to tackle this ever growing threat.