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Alarming rise in antibiotic-resistant infections

12:00am | & Health

Worrying new figures from Public Health England (PHE) show there were an estimated 61,000 cases of infections resistant to commonly-used antibiotics in England during 2018.

That equates to 165 new antibiotic-resistant infections every day – up by 9% on the figure for 2017. It has prompted a relaunch of the “Keep Antibiotics Working” campaign, which urges people to take the advice of medical professionals on antibiotics and only use them when really necessary.

Some people see antibiotics as a ‘cure-all wonderdrug’ and routinely demand them whenever they fall ill, even for conditions where they will have no particular effect. But the more widely antibiotics are used, the less effective they become. This is because widespread exposure to commonly-used antibiotics enables new strains of ‘superbugs’ to develop which are highly resistant to them.

Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. They also help ward off infections during chemotherapy, caesarean sections and other surgeries. However, they should not be used to treat less serious illnesses such as coughs, earache and sore throats, which can get better by themselves. Overuse of antibiotics risks negating their effectiveness for when they are really needed.

When an infection – such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or skin infection – doesn’t respond to an antibiotic, it has the potential to cause serious complications, including bloodstream infections and hospitalisation. The threat of antibiotic resistance continues to grow and the latest PHE report shows that potentially very serious antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections rose by a third (32%) between 2014 and 2018.

As well as urging the public to always take their doctor’s, pharmacist’s or nurse’s advice on antibiotics, the Keep Antibiotics Working campaign provides effective self-care advice to help people and their families feel better if they are not prescribed antibiotics. The campaign includes TV, radio and digital advertising and will also tie in with World Antibiotic Awareness Week later this month (November 18th to 22nd).

Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, said: “We want the public to join us in tackling antibiotic resistance by listening to your GP, pharmacist or nurse’s advice and only taking antibiotics when necessary. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them is not a harmless act – it can have grave consequences for you and your family’s health, now and in the future.

“It’s worrying that more infections are becoming resistant to these life-saving medicines and we must act now to preserve antibiotics for when we really need them. We’ve seen positive steps taken to reduce antibiotic use without affecting people’s recovery when they are unwell, and GPs should be congratulated in their ongoing work to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, added: “Antibiotics can be lifesaving drugs, but when bacteria become resistant to them – as they increasingly are – they will cease to work, and in many cases we will then have no viable therapeutic alternative, which could be disastrous for the patients affected.

“GPs are already doing a good job at reducing antibiotics prescribing, but it can’t be our responsibility alone – we need the public to understand that antibiotics are neither a cure nor an appropriate treatment for many minor self-limiting conditions and viral infections, and if a GP advises against antibiotics, they are doing their best for the patient’s own good, and that of wider society.”

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