Antibiotics for back pain: hope or hype?BMJ 2013; 346 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f3122 (Published 14 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3122
- Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
“Up to 40% of patients with chronic back pain could be cured with a course of antibiotics rather than surgery, in a medical breakthrough,” began a story in the Guardian on 7 May. It continued, “One of the UK’s most eminent spinal surgeons said the discovery was the greatest he had witnessed in his professional life, and that its impact on medicine was worthy of a Nobel prize.”1
This surgeon, Peter Hamlyn, was also quoted in the Daily Mail as saying, “more work needs to be done but make no mistake, this is a turning point, a point where we will have to rewrite the textbooks.”2 The Guardian hosted a live webchat with Hanne Albert, the Danish researcher who made the discovery, and Hamlyn.3 The excitement was picked up by the global media.
Sky television featured a patient who said that antibiotics had cured her back pain. Albert was described by the presenter as “having to endure the ridicule of sceptical colleagues” before she described how, for a subgroup of people with back pain, antibiotics could “give them a happy life again.”4
A public relations company held a press conference to publicise the research on 7 May at the Royal Society of Medicine in London. The invitation said that the research paper …