Warning over surge in antibiotic-resistant infections

The number of infections that do not respond to antibiotics has risen 9% in one year, Public Health England (PHE) has warned.

There were an estimated 61,000 antibiotic-resistant infections in 2018 – around 165 every day in England, and a rise on the previous year, PHE said.

It is urging patients to always heed the advice of their doctor, pharmacist or nurse as part of its Keep Antibiotics Working campaign.

Resistance occurs when bacteria mutate and can no longer be effectively tackled by antibiotics, meaning infections can become deadly.

The main reasons for the rise in antibiotic resistance include over-use of antibiotics in healthcare and farming, patients not finishing the entire antibiotic course, and poor infection control and hygiene.

Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis.

However, PHE says they are frequently being used to treat coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better on their own.

It said its latest report showed that antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections – which can be serious – rose by a third (32%) between 2014 and 2018.

PHE’s Dr Susan Hopkins 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.”

  • Over-use of antibiotics in healthcare and farming
  • Patients not finishing the entire antibiotic course
  • Poor infection control and hygiene

PHE praised the 17% drop in the number of antibiotic prescriptions issued in GP surgeries since 2014.

And it said there is no evidence that more people are being admitted to hospital with serious infections as a direct result of fewer prescriptions from GPs.

Dr Hopkins said: “We have 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.”

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said: “Antibiotics are one of the most powerful tools we have against infection.

“Resistance to these drugs therefore places much of modern medicine in jeopardy.

“A key component of our response to this problem is to ensure people use antibiotics appropriately.

“The decrease in consumption of antibiotics is good news but the rise in resistant infections shows the threat is increasing and so there is more to be done.

“Antibiotic resistance is not just a matter for clinicians – the public also have a crucial role to play in helping to preserve these vital medicines.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “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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