Should you complete a course of antibiotics?

flemingBroadcaster: BBC1 & Sky News

Year: 2017

Genre: News package

URLs:
(1) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/101304
(2) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/101301

Should you complete a course of antibiotics or stop taking them as soon as you feel better? Received wisdom, and current policy, is that you ought to continue the course to ensure that the bacteria causing the problem have been eliminated. However, a new paper The antibiotic course has had its day in the British Medical Journal argues that there is no evidence base for the existing practice and, given the known correlation between exposure to antibiotics and the development of resistance, we ought – as a bare minimum – to be conducting appropriately-controlled trials to examine the impacts (good or bad) of recommending shorter treatment regimes.

The paper received a variety of coverage in both the print and broadcast media. The two links here are to discussion of the work on the BBC Six O’clock News (1, 2.2 mins) and Sky News (2, 2.4 mins). Both clips have their own merits, but if you want to pick one then, on this occasion, I’d go with the Sky News clip. Both packages include historical footage of Alexander Fleming, but the Sky piece has more thorough explanation of the arguments.

For further coverage see my Journal of the Left-Handed Biochemist post on the paper, and this article from the Daily Telegraph.

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Antibiotics: Britain’s greatest invention?

fleming

Invention or discovery? The case is put that sufficient work needed to be done after Fleming’s observation that the Penicillium mould killed bacteria

Broadcaster: BBC2

Year: 2017

Genre: Factual

URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/99491

This clips (8:50) involves former newsreader Angela Rippon putting the case for antibiotics to be the winner of a poll to identify Britain’s Greatest Invention. She has a vested interest in the choice, having been saved from TB as a child. All other inventions being considered (the jet engine, steam engine, fridge, television, mobile phone and concrete) pale into insignificance, she argues, as you cannot benefit from the other inventions suggested if you are dead. This argument may have prevailed, as antibiotics were declared the winner on the night.

In truth this is not a particularly great clip. The opening gambit that “antibiotics literally kill bacteria” is a simplification and the popular myths surrounding the role played by Alexander Fleming are trotted out. There are, however, two features that might make this worth sharing with students.

The first is the debate over whether antibiotics are a discovery or an invention. This is an example of a broader debate about whether natural products are “invented” (this was also at the heart, for example, of the tensions regarding the legitimacy of patenting human genes). Rippon suggests there was sufficient need to technological innovation for antibiotics to be an invention not a discovery. I would have to concur with this view, especially since the fluoroquinolones, my favourite family of “antibiotics”, are in fact entirely man-made. Continue reading