News story

New report shows stark effect of antibiotic resistance

PHE welcomes the publication of the first paper from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).

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Professor Neil Woodford, Head of the Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infections Reference Unit (AMRHAI) at PHE is contributing scientific expertise to the group for the next 2 years.

The Review estimates that by 2050 the global cost of AMR will be up to $100 trillion and will account for 10 million extra deaths a year.

Although there are patients in England who have infections that are resistant to some types of antibiotics we have not reached the point where these infections cannot be treated. However, treating these patients effectively may involve doctors having to use older antibiotics (which haven’t been so widely used so therefore haven’t developed widespread resistance) or combinations of antibiotics.

As AMR is a global problem no country can view itself in isolation. International travel allows for both bacteria and viruses to spread around the world within hours causing disease in new populations and this has been seen in the spread of new strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

In addition to PHE leading on 4 elements of the UK’s 5-year antimicrobial resistance strategy, PHE is also sharing its expertise through international academic symposia and through a laboratory twinning initiative under the Commonwealth umbrella.

Professor Anthony Kessel, Director for International Public Health at PHE, said:

This report is predicting that in just 36 years there will be an extra 10 million deaths worldwide from antibiotic resistance. If ever we needed a reminder of what a public health catastrophe looks like then this has to be it.

Stopping resistance developing should be straight forward: prescribing the right antibiotic for the right infection for the right time and stopping infections spreading by practicing good infection control. However, in reality this can be difficult to achieve, particularly in countries where antibiotics are freely available or there is lack of sanitation and healthcare is limited.

For bacteria, the development of resistance to antibiotics is a natural evolutionary process in terms of survival. You cannot undo that process only manage it. Once resistant bacteria are widespread in the population; in the healthcare setting or in the environment a strident response is required. Given that bacteria can grow and mutate at a considerable rate, we have to be swift and decisive in our response.

Read the UK 5 Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy 2013 to 2018

Published 11 December 2014