Multiple courses of antibiotics can make people more sick

Published in the journal BMC Medicine, the study is based on the data of two million patients in England and Wales

Taking multiple courses of antibiotics within a short span of time may do people more harm than good, suggests new research which discovered an association between the number of prescriptions for antibiotics and a higher risk of hospital admissions.

Patients who have had nine or more antibiotic prescriptions for common infections in the previous three years are 2.26 times more likely to go to the hospital with another infection in three or more months, said the researchers.

Increased likeliness of visiting the hospital

Patients who had two antibiotic prescriptions were 1.23 times more likely, patients who had three to four prescriptions 1.33 times more likely and patients who had five to eight 1.77 times more likely to go to the hospital with another infection.

"We don't know why this is, but overuse of antibiotics might kill the good bacteria in the gut (microbiota) and make us more susceptible to infections, for example," said Professor Tjeerd van Staa from the University of Manchester in Britain.

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Examined records of two million patients in England and Wales

The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, is based on the data of two million patients in England and Wales. The patient records, from 2000 to 2016, covered common infections such as upper respiratory tract, urinary tract, ear, and chest infections and excluded long term conditions such as cystic fibrosis and chronic lung disease.

The risks of going to the hospital with another infection were related to the number of antibiotic prescriptions in the previous three years. A course is defined by the team as being given over a period of one or two weeks. "GPs (general physicians) care about their patients, and over recent years have worked hard to reduce the prescribing of antibiotics," Staa said.

More research required to study the link

"But it is clear GPs do not have the tools to prescribe antibiotics effectively for common infections, especially when patients already have previously used antibiotics. "They may prescribe numerous courses of antibiotics over several years, which according to our study increases the risk of a more serious infection. That in turn, we show, is linked to hospital admissions," Staa added. It not clear why hospital admissions are linked to higher prescriptions and research is needed to show what or if any biological factors exist, said the research team.

"Our hope is that, however, a tool we are working for GPs, based on patient history, will be able to calculate the risks associated with taking multiple courses of antibiotics," said Francine Jury from the University of Manchester.