Tuesday, 4 September 2018

New Guidelines to GPs to Avoid Prescribing Antibiotics for Coughs

Photo © Debs Cook
August 2018, London - The over-use of antibiotics has led to an alarmingly rapid development of antibiotic resistance among pathogenic bacteria over recent years. To counter this, family doctors (General Practitioners or GPs) in England have been issued with new guidelines jointly by Public Health England and NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) to avoid prescribing antibiotics to patients with acute coughs. Instead, GPs should recommend the use of honey or over-the-counter cough medicines first before seeking antibiotic treatment.

Pelargonium. One of the self-care products specifically mentioned in the guidelines is pelargonium. The medicinal pelargonium (Pelargonium sidoides) originates from South Africa, as do the related ornamental pelargoniums known also as “Geraniums”. In view of the current advice, it is ironic that the Zulu word for the medicinal plant is “Umckaloabo” meaning “bad cough”.

The traditional medicinal use of Pelargonium in Africa only came to international attention in the late 19th Century, when the traveller, Major Charles H. Stevens, was cured of lung tuberculosis with an unknown herb given to him by a native healer. After tracking down the herb’s origin and based on his experience, Stevens developed an extract of Pelargonium, which he successfully sold for many years from his premises in Wimbledon, England. Eventually his business collapsed, after he unsuccessfully launched an expensive counter-claim to the accusations of quackery from the medical profession. Further international use of Pelargonium went into abeyance, until the 1970s, when a German company, Schwabe, started to invest in its research. Today Pelargonium is one of the most researched of herbs, with strong evidence in adults and children of broad-spectrum anti-microbial action. It is of especial therapeutic value for coughs and colds in children as its mild flavour is well tolerated.

Other herbs traditionally used for coughs and colds, but which have been followed up by positive research findings both in the laboratory and in human subjects include Echinacea, Elderflowers, Thyme, Andrographis and Garlic. The British Herbal Medicine Association carries a list of appropriate over-the-counter products based on these herbs bhma.info/index.php/indications/coughs-colds-flu.