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Topical antibiotics may slow wound healing

The routine use of prophylactic topical antibiotics may slow the healing of minor skin wounds since new research shows that interleukin (IL)-1β signalling induced by bacteria has a role in tissue regeneration.

In a press release from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, where the research was conducted, the authors note that the interaction between the human immune systems and nonpathogenic microorganisms that play roles in repairing and regenerating the structure of the skin has been unclear.

To investigate this question, they conducted a small trial that followed six adults over a 10-month period. The participants either applied or did not apply a topical broad-spectrum antibiotic following every skin wound they received. At the end of the study period, the majority of the antibiotic users experienced slower healing.

In a concurrent study in mice, the antibiotics prevented the regeneration of hair follicles after wounding.

Their findings were published online ahead of print in Cell Host and Microbe (April 1, 2021).

“We tested many conditions where there were fewer or more bacteria present during wound healing, for example after antibiotic use. We found that, generally speaking, normal levels of bacteria—and even bacterial infections that the body could fight off—would actually improve healing,” said the study’s senior author Dr. Luis Garza in the release. Dr. Garza is an associate professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins.

“If further research confirms the finding of this study—that common over-the-counter antibiotic treatments are slowing the healing process—then perhaps people may need to reconsider their use of these products,” Dr. Garza says.

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