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Long-Term Penicillin Can Treat Painful Cellulitis

Update Date: May 02, 2013 02:29 PM EDT
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Cellulitis is a skin infection that often occurs due to bacteria and although it can be treated with a course of antibiotics, the condition can flare up randomly, leading to discomfort and pain. Cellulitis occurs most commonly when either staphylococcus bacteria or group A strep enters the body via an opening, such as a burn or surgical wound, bruises and even through athlete's foot. When this condition flares up, it can cause fever, chills, swollen glands, painful and tender rashes, and blisters. Researchers have known that this infection, which involves the deep underlying tissues, is treatable with penicillin. However, once treatment stops, flare ups can be unpredictable. Based on the fact that the conditions seem to come back, researchers looked at the effects of low dose penicillin used long term in preventing any flare ups. They found that even though this drug treatment would be long term, low dose penicillin can be effective in stopping cellulitis from coming back.

"Low-dose penicillin substantially reduces the risk of further episodes of leg cellulitis in those who have had two or more previous episodes," Hywel Williams, lead researcher and professor of dermato-epidemiology from the University of Nottingham, said. "The penicillin reduced recurrences from 37 percent in the group taking placebo to 22 percent in those taking penicillin. But this effect only occurred in the period that folks took the penicillin. When they stopped the 12 months of penicillin, the protective effect wore off."

The study recruited 274 participants who had cellulitis before and they were randomly assigned to one of the two groups. The first group of participants followed a low dose regimen of penicillin and the second group took a placebo. After three years of follow-up, the researchers reported that the group taking penicillin experienced a recurrence of the condition 626 days after the drugs were stopped. The placebo group had a flare up after 532 days since the end of the experiment. During the study time, 30 people taking penicillin had a recurrence compared to the 51 patients taking the placebo.

Although the researchers found that low-dose penicillin was effective in preventing the condition from returning, they have not studied the possible side effects of taking penicillin in the long run.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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