Monday, October 18, 2010

Magic Number 7

Here is a question for you: For how many days were you asked to take your last antibiotic prescription? Was it 7 days? If so, have you thought of why?

Sunday's New York Times (October 17th) featured an insightful as well as worrisome opinion piece on why antibiotics are almost always prescribed for 7 days, as opposed to any other number. It turns out that there is really no scientific basis for the number 7. It's simply a convention and a habit. In fact, the author of the article points to a research study that shows that in the case of uncomplicated pneumonia, taking antibiotics for 3 days is as effective as the recommended 7 days.

The author then smartly points out that by having people take more pills than necessary, the overdose not only contributes to rising healthcare costs, but also to the evolution of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Here is my simple calculation:
If 3 days of antibiotics is as effective as 7 days, then a person will be taking 4 more pills than necessary (assuming he/she is taking one pill per day). That's more than double the necessary dosage. Translate this to the entire U.S. population, this means that at any given time, there are twice as many antibiotics taken than necessary!

New York Times article here
Research study on the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment here

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