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Don't prescribe antibiotics after surgery, WHO tells doctors

A sample of drugs prescribed for a patient.

Doctors have been advised against giving antibiotic drugs to patients after surgery.

This is according to an advisory by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that said taking antibiotics 24 hours after routine surgery can increase the risk of side-effects such as stomach ulcers, serious diarrhoea and antibiotic resistance.

The guidelines also recommend that antibiotics should be taken before and during surgery to prevent infection and not afterwards.

“Sooner or later many of us will need surgery, but none of us wants to pick up an infection on the operating table,” said Dr Ed Kelley, director of WHO’s Department of Service Delivery and Safety.

“By applying these new guidelines surgical teams can reduce harm, improve quality of life and do their bit to stop the spread of antibiotic resistance,” said Dr Kelley.

Titled Global Guidelines for the Prevention of Surgical Site Infection, the advisory was first published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal on March 6.


It is designed to address the increasing burden of healthcare-associated infections on both patients and healthcare systems globally.

“No one should get sick while seeking or receiving care,” said Dr Kelley. “Preventing surgical infections has never been more important but it is complex and requires a range of preventive measures.

“These guidelines are an invaluable tool for protecting patients.”

He said doctors should stop giving prevent preventative antibiotics within 24 hours after surgery to avoid side-effects and other problems associated with antibiotic use.
“There is tendency of doctors giving antibiotics immediately after surgery to relieve pain,” said Dr Kelley. “This is wrong; it is the main cause of many problems we develop.”


He added that when antibiotics are used too much, they will not work anymore; instead they kill.

The new WHO guidelines are valid for any country and suitable to local adaptations and take account of the strength of available scientific evidence, the cost and resource implications and patient values and preferences. They aim at saving lives, cutting costs and arresting the spread of superbugs.

Antibiotics are medicines used to prevent and treat bacterial infections.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of these medicines. Resistance develops naturally over time but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is rapidly accelerating the process.



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