News story

More infections becoming resistant to antibiotics

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are bacteria that have mutated to become resistant to certain types of antibiotic medicines.


This makes any infection caused by these bacteria more difficult to treat. Even if an infection has been treated effectively with an antibiotic in the past it may not be able to in the future.

In 2003 there were only 3 confirmed laboratory reports of enterobacteriaceae (gut bacteria) that produced a carbapenemase (an enzyme that is involved in spreading resistance to carbapenem antibiotics). By 2012 this had increased to 800.

This increase in reports, along with other factors, has prompted England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Professor Dame Sally Davies to add antibiotic resistance to the national risk register following the publication of the Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer – Infections and the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

Its addition to the register means that this issue will be given full attention by politicians in England as well as the G8 and World Health Organization. Other risks on the register include pandemic flu, severe weather, attacks on transport and major industrial accidents.

The dramatic rise in bugs that are resistant to antibiotics means there needs to be action not just from Government but also from healthcare institutions like hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, patients and the general public.

The growth in resistance is not new and has been developing over a period of years in Europe and elsewhere. New strains (types) of resistance bacteria have come from South East Asia and have spread as people travel all over the world.

Today, patients who have an antibiotic-resistant infection can still be treated with other antibiotics. But this may not be the case in the future. The rise in resistance also means that doctors sometimes have to use ‘older’ antibiotics when they don’t understand as much about how they work.

Professor Anthony Kessel, Director of Public Health Strategy at PHE, said: “We are very pleased that the CMO is giving the issue of antibiotic resistance her full attention. This is not a clinical issue but one that affects all of us and we must change our attitude towards antibiotics. They certainly have their place for treating bacterial infections but too often are given for viral illnesses which contribute towards the problems we are facing today. This will require more awareness raising and education both for clinicians and the public on how we use the antibiotics that we have.

“A forebear of PHE, the Health Protection Agency, has been working very hard on this issue for some time and has committed great resource to devising strategies and advice on treatment, infection control and patient management. We cannot eliminate this problem but we can put in successful strategies to manage it and minimise its impact and keep our antibiotics safe for the future.”

Find out what you can do to treat common viral illnesses, such as coughs and colds without antibiotics.

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Published 5 April 2013
Last updated 9 April 2013 + show all updates
  1. Amended introduction to specify that figures relate to enterobacteriaceae resistance to carbapenem antibiotics.
  2. First published.