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GPs using longer antibiotic courses

GPs are prescribing longer courses of antibiotics than a decade ago ­ in conflict with latest advice ­ new research warns.

Figures for December 2004 reveal that 66 per cent of GPs' antibiotic scripts within one strategic health authority were for seven-day courses. The proportion has surged since a previous analysis in 1991/2, which found 47 per cent of antibiotic courses prescribed across England were for seven days' supply.

The proportion of five-day courses has fallen from 37 per cent in the early 1990s to 16 per cent in 2004, according to the study, which will be presented at the Annual Public Health Forum in March.

The majority of courses were for seven days for both penicillin V and trimethoprim ­ although a three-day course is generally recommended to treat uncomplicated cystitis.

Study leader Ed Wilson, research associate at the school of medicine, health policy and practice, University of East Anglia, said: 'Our findings have important implications for development of antibiotic resistance in primary care and unnecessary expenditure on antibiotics.'

He said increased availability of 'patient packs', containing seven days' supply at the usual dosage schedule, might have contributed to the rise.

Professor Richard Wise, chair of the Specialist Advisory Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance, said: 'The fact a GP may be tied to a time course by a product is regrettable for many simple infections.'

But he added: 'My greatest concern is that the majority of antibiotics are used to treat minor respiratory tract infections, which are generally caused by viruses.'

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