Pill regimen perplexing when based on days in week

My son was helping release a large bass when the flopping fish stabbed his thumb with its dorsal fin. The wound turned into a nasty infection that resulted in a trip to the emergency room. 

The docs prescribed an antibiotic that he was cautioned to take until it was gone, and he is now doing better. After finishing the antibiotic regimen, he called me to ask why he had to take the antibiotic until it was gone. 

I told him the usual stuff about making sure every last infectious agent was dead to avoid creating resistant bacteria.

However, his question has been troubling me. When doctors prescribe a seven-day regimen, why is seven days better than six?

Has anyone really tested this?

If seven is good, maybe nine would be better. 

I don’t know where the seven came from. I know seven days are a week and that I get to rest on the seventh day of each week.

But what do bacteria know about that? My wife doesn’t think I work all that hard on the other six days to deserve a day of rest.   

Researching this, I discovered something truly disturbing. Did you know that a week hasn’t always been seven days?

An eight-day week was used in ancient Rome. In fact, the seven-day week wasn’t declared in the Roman Empire until 321 A.D. when Constantine declared it so. Should we really be taking antibiotics for eight days?

If a patient is advised to take three pills, equally dispersed over 24 hours for seven days, they end up taking 21 pills.

What if they forget one? Do people get well just as efficiently if they only take 20 pills?

Eliminating one pill from each prescription could save millions in medical costs.

I suppose that would cost the pharmaceutical industry the same millions, so maybe it’s a wash. 

At least 24 hours is based on the rotation of the earth and the three is based on dividing the 24 hours up evenly. Actually, three can be used to divide any period into beginning, middle and end.

But the seven seems to be based on some long-lost fealty to the Roman empire.

I found that the ancient Chinese and Egyptian calendars had 10-day weeks.

Oddly, it turns out that my son was given a 10-day regimen of antibiotics. He was lucky he didn’t live in the old French Republic. They divided the 30-day month into thirds to establish a week. Wait, I guess that’s the same thing. 

Both the Aztecs and the Mayans divided the solar year into 18 periods of 20 days, with five nameless days left over. Those leftover days seem awkward.

What if you’re on medication?

The pre-Christian Celtic calendar may have had eight days also, but there are no pre-Christian Celts left who can remember. 

Of course, we now live universally with a seven-day week, and pretty much everyone agrees.

It’s just seems so unscientific. Are we administering antibiotics by magical formulas established by an ancient Roman king?

Holy Game of Thrones, Batman! I guess that’s a mixed metaphor, but seven or 10 days just seems so arbitrary. 

However, as my children like to point out, I am not the kind of doctor that helps anyone. Don’t listen to me and take your antibiotics until either you, or the antibiotic, is gone.

I’m sure someone has done the research and knows exactly how long it takes what strength of which antibiotic to kill each species of bacteria. Haven’t they?

I’m happy to report that our son is doing well even though he only took his antibiotic for nine days.

He forgot the last day and left his final pills home when he was gone on a business trip.

He called and asked his wife to bring him the pills when he was about two hours away. But they knew his life-insurance was paid up so decided to forget it.

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.


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