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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…

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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 Professor Dame Sally Davies is warning today in the lead up to European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) on Sunday.

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.

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.”

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 lifesaving medicines continue to stay effective.

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

Dos and don’ts for patients

The Chief Medical Officer has provided a list of dos and don’ts for patients to help prevent the emergence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The advice is:

  • 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, because 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 because they are prescribed for you only.
  • Don’t forget that resistant bacteria don’t just infect you, they 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.

Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy

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
  • develop new antibiotics and alternative treatments
  • investigate the link between antibiotic use in animals and the food chain, and the spread of resistance in people
  • minimise antibiotics entering the environment in other ways

 More information

Published 16 November 2012