Antibiotic resistance 'big threat to health'

Antibiotic resistant bacteria Antibiotic resistance is growing

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Resistance to antibiotics is one of the greatest threats to modern health, experts say.

The warning from England's chief medical officer and the Health Protection Agency comes amid reports of growing problems with resistant strains of bugs such as E. coli and gonorrhoea.

They said many antibiotics were being used unnecessarily for mild infections, helping to create resistance.

And they urged patients to take more care with how they used medicines.

This is particularly important as there are very few new antibiotics in development.


The chief medical officer, Prof 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.

Prof Dame Sally Davies warns of the consequences of antibiotic resistance

"The more you use an antibiotic, the more bacteria become resistant to it."

To reinforce her message, Dame Sally has issued a list of "dos and don'ts".

These include:

  • Do remember antibiotics should be taken only when prescribed by a health professional.
  • Do complete the prescribed course even if you feel better, as not taking the full course encourages the emergence of resistance.
  • Don't share antibiotics with anyone else.
  • Do remember that antibiotics cannot help you recover from infections caused by viruses, such as colds or flu.

The HPA said the last point was one of the common misconceptions among the public.

Dr Cliodna McNulty from the HPA said: "We all seem to forget just how awful you can feel with a bad cold, let alone flu, and this maybe makes us think that we are more poorly than we really are and that we need antibiotics to get better.

"But this isn't the case and using your favourite over-the-counter medicines that can help to ease headaches, aching muscles and stop your nose running will make you feel a lot better."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    What we are witnessing is evolution in real time and before our eyes. It is only to be expected that eventually our current antibiotics would be pretty ineffective in treatment.

    The problem has been accelerated by being able to purchase antibiotics over the counter in other countries, incorrect prescribing of antibiotics, animal feed and self medication.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    These sorts of comments are very unhelpful if they are not backed up by guidelines. How many courses of anti-biotics for example per annum would be considered excessive? The only people who will listen to this advice I suspect are the very ones that don't excessively use antibiotics in the first place - and the ones that generally need them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I've been saying this for as long as I can remember. The more you take the manufactured sort the less your own body produces. These aren't aspirins, in fact they are less use than those. They are no good against viruses and if you're glugging them down in hospital expect to get MRSA because your gut's defences have been stripped out. That's where your body's defences are, nurture them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Some bacteria can survive in Sub zero temperatures, extreme heat and High acidity environments. Its of no surprise some are now resistant to common antibiotics. Lets face it there a clever organism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The problem is that Natural Selection means the bacteria which survive the antibiotics dose are the ones that get to breed the next generation. If this only happening sparingly, it would have limited impact, but when the entire 'ecosystem' is taking antibiotics regularly, all you do is multiply the chances of adaptation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    #15 Its basic Darwinism. 'Survival of the fittest'. Bacteria can't think... evolution is spontaneous, not planned (unless you live in Kansas...). In many cases antibiotic resistant bacteria are much less infectious than the 'sensitive' strains. MRSA grows slower and is less infectious than strains of Staph Aureus that are vulnerable to antibiotics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I think is is probably right but the problem is patients expect a quick cure from an anti biotic. What patients done appear to understand what happened before anti biotics were discovered. Antibiotics should only be used for serious infections. Patients' bodies have to learn how to cure themselves of minor infections.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Resistance to penicillin was described as early as the 1940s in some bacteria. The shortsightedness of taking antibiotics for granted and therefore over prescribing them and using them for pretty much any complaint is ridiculous - but unless this is tackled globally and also considered in farming etc where they are often doled out as routine prevention, the problem is only going to get worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I've rarely taken antibiotics in my life for exactly this reason. I hope that when I really do need them they will be more effective. But I would be interested to know whether the over-use of antibiotics in other uses e.g. in feeding our food, or in presenting our food has the same effect of making directly taken antibiotics less effective.

    If so, why aren't we tightening those rules?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    #5 Peter_Sym Thank you, you have answered my question on how do germs know to mutate to fight off the antibiotics. So the next question is, have antibiotics become too effective killing off the weaker strains that might have prevented the stronger strains from becoming preverlant earlier, like plants do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    What will future generations think of us?
    We've used up fossil fuels, limited resources, we've created so much debt it'll be paid by them not us. And now to top it all, we've been careless with antibiotics and have allowed resistant human pathogens to evolve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Stop putting antibiotics in animal feedstocks and use better methods to prevent infection of livestock (eg raise them under more hygienic conditions). These low concentrations of antibiotics only encourage bacteria to acquire resistance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Anti-bacterial handwash, wipes, washing up liquid, facewash...the list is endless and no wonder resistant strains are appearing.

    In my experience, GPs (that I've been to) have been far too willing to push ABs (and any pills) to keep people quiet. Some friends keep hold of them and take a few here and there when they feel unwell, thus rendering them pretty much useless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I had to have antibiotics this year for a bad respiratory infection. I then had a further infection which, again, had to be treated with antibiotics. I'm accutely aware that there will come a time when they will no longer be effective, and we will be left wrestling with some horrendous illnesses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Intensive farms can't function without copious amounts of antibiotics, its the only way to keep alive who animals trapped in their own filth.

    These bacteria will collect a set of antibiotic resistance genes and learn how to overcome common antibiotics and take us all back to the situation 100 years ago when simple infections could not be stopped.

    But, at least we get cheap meat for now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I've got a slight throaty cough at the moment and feel a little under the weather but I'm not dying, within an hour of begin to feel a little rough at work the other night I had being offered various non prescription drugs and had been advised to visit my doctor 3 times, I;m not even off sick its my roster'd day off.

    Its the instsnt gratification society, a pill to fix all problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    This is nothing new; the information has been out there for years. Obviously people and doctors didn't get the message.

    There are other alternative though, Phages.

    Russia used to have the most comprehensive bank of Phages until the fall of the communism. The West/pharmaceutical companies ignored them. So I guess their all gone now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Surely feeding antibiotics to farm animals can't help.

    Keep antibiotics for essential use. Possible humans only?

    But difficult to enforce worldwide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It's been a long time since man tried to work with Nature, rather than making an enemy of it.

    Man will certainly lose in the long run.

    We live in a fear culture where every soap is "anti-bacterial", and children can't ride a bicycle without fluorescent clothes and body armour.

    We have made an enemy of Life itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Some of this advice is technically incorrect. Antibiotics are not mutagenic. Taking an antibiotic does NOT make a bacteria become resistant. Mutations causing resistance occur spontaneously and overuse of antibiotics then favour the growth of the mutant. Strains of Staph Aureus resistant to most antibiotics (ie MRSA) have been found in pathology samples from the 1920s.


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