Press release

Antibiotic resistance poses alarming threat

Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to modern health and we face a future without cures for infection if antibiotics are not used responsibly, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Professor Dame Sally Davies warned today, on the eve of European Antibiotic Awareness Day (18th November).

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Urgent action is now needed at a national, EU and international level to make sure we use them in the right way, at the right dose and at the right time, to help slow down the development of antibiotic resistance.

Many antibiotics are prescribed and used for mild infections when they don’t need to be. There are very few new antibiotics in development - so it is important to use our existing antibiotics wisely and make sure these life-saving medicines continue to stay effective for ourselves and future generations.

Unless action is taken to prevent the emergence of resistance, some of the problems we could face include:

  • Increased deaths from hard-to-treat infections. A recent study suggests that deaths could double in patients with multi-resistant E. coli.
  • Increased infection and deaths associated with routine medical procedures such as heart surgery.

  • The spread of an untreatable form of gonorrhoea.

Today the CMO has provided a list of dos and don’ts for patients to help prevent the emergence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Professor Dame Sally Davies said:

“Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness at a rate that is both alarming and irreversible - similar to global warming.

“I urge patients and prescribers to think about the drugs they are requesting and dispensing. Bacteria are adapting and finding ways to survive the effects of antibiotics, ultimately becoming resistant so they no longer work. And the more you use an antibiotic, the more bacteria become resistant to it.”

The Chief Medical Officer advises patients to:

**Do **remember that antibiotics are important medicines and should only be taken when prescribed by a health professional.

**Do **complete the prescribed course even if you feel better, as not taking the full course encourages the emergence of resistance.

Do remember that antibiotics cannot help you recover from infections caused by viruses, such as common colds or flu, because antibiotics are effective only against bacterial infections.

Don’t share your antibiotics with anyone else - they are prescribed for you only.

Don’t forget that resistant bacteria don’t just infect you, they do spread to other people in close contact with you.

Don’t forget that antibiotics can upset the natural balance of bacteria in your body. This allows other organisms to increase and can result in diarrhoea and thrush.

EAAD is a Europe-wide awareness-raising event that aims to promote responsible prescribing and educate healthcare professionals and the public about appropriate use of antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance is not new, but more action is needed now to tackle this global problem if we are to keep pace with its development. The UK is leading the way in responding to EU calls for action, with the development of a new cross-Government Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy and Action plan, which will be published by the Department of Health next year.

The strategy will champion responsible use of antibiotics, and build on ongoing work to:

  • Slow down the development of antibiotic resistance;

  • Maintain the efficacy of existing antibiotics;

  • Developing new antibiotics and alternative treatments;

  • Investigate the link between antibiotic use in animals and the food chain, and the spread of resistance in humans; and

  • Minimise antibiotics entering the environment in other ways.

Notes to Editors

For more information contact the Department of Health Press Office on 0207 210 5947.

Published 17 November 2012