Antibiotic Resistance

Shorter Duration of Some Antibiotics May Be Better for You

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Do you really need to take those antibiotics for 10-14 days or will five days do? Some providers are changing the way they prescribe antibiotics, based on evidence-based national research, and are recommending a shorter duration of three to seven days in place of the standard duration of seven to 14 days.

A 2016 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a five-day antibiotic therapy was just as effective as a 10-day therapy for treating patients hospitalized with community-acquired pneumonia. The readmission rate was also lower in those who received the shorter duration.

“Shorter courses of three to seven days are proven to be just as effective as longer, traditional courses, and can have less harmful side effects,” says Rachel Kenney, Pharm.D., a Henry Ford pharmacist who is co-leading an initiative under the health system’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Program.

The initiative focuses the shorter therapy course for four common bacterial infections:

  • Bladder infections
  • Cellulitis, a mild skin infection
  • COPD acute exacerbation and community-acquired pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infections

Antibiotic Overuse & Resistance

It’s estimated that approximately half of antibiotics prescribed for patients in the United States are inappropriate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because antibiotics only work for treating bacterial infections, they are often overused or misused, which has led to the development of antibiotic resistance. This means that germs are resistant to treatment with different types of antibiotic medicine. As a result, it can make infections stronger and harder to treat or result in harmful side effects.

Repeated and improper use of antibiotics are the primary causes of antibiotic resistance, in which bacteria don’t kill germs and the germs survive and continue to multiply, rendering medications less effective at curing or preventing infections.

Related Topic: Avoiding Antibiotic Overuse

Internal medicine physician David Willens, M.D., MPH, says using antibiotics less often or for shorter courses has two benefits:

  • Helps patients avoid potential side effects.
  • Reduces antibiotic resistance.

“Which means that antibiotics as a tool will be available to us for many, many more years when they’re really needed,” he says.

When antibiotics are unnecessary, Dr. Willens routinely recommends over-the-counter medicines for mild illnesses like colds, coughs and minor aches and pains. “If it’s not a condition that will be helped by an antibiotic, over-the-counter medications may be more effective,” he says.

If you have questions about your antibiotic prescription, call your doctor or the pharmacy at henryford.com or 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).


Rachel Kenney, Pharm.D., is a pharmacist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Dr. David Willens practices internal medicine at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.