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Antibiotic resistance: Why UK experts are sounding the alarm

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Antibiotic resistance could be 'apocalyptic', say UK experts

UK researchers and experts are sounding the alarm about antibiotic resistance, saying attention is needed to the growing problem before it is too late.

One of the concerns from experts writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) is that if germs get the best of it, costs could escalate. The current thinking is antibiotic resistance is not an economic burden, but without clear policies on how to curb infection rates, things could change drastically. .

Researchers are fearful that not enough diligence is being directed at solving the problem.

Thirty percent might die from routine operations

Without antibiotics, there could be a substantial toll on life for 0.5 to 2 percent of people undergoing hip replacement surgery and develop infection, as an example. The authors’ estimate 30 percent of patients would die.

Though the it sounds admittedly simplistic, the experts say, “…we use it as an example to illustrate and provoke, to emphasise the point that infection rates and their consequences in terms of health service costs and human health may be unimaginable."

Antibiotics are a standard of care to prevent infections after surgery, for women who have C-section and for cancer patients.

What the experts suggest is an understanding of the problem from both the government and the public that infection control is a priority.

"A fundamental standard of the NHS should include basic high quality routine infection control and clinical care, as noted by the Francis inquiry. These standards of care are crucial to the prevention and control of all healthcare associated infections, including multi-drug resistant Gram negative bacteria”, the authors write.

The U.K.’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, released a report today calling for “global action” to address the antibiotic resistance, “…which in 20 years could see any one of us dying following minor surgery.”

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Three of 17 recommendations from the report include:

  1. Close monitoring of the situation from the NHS and across the globe
  2. International involvement from politicians, including the G8 and the World Health Organization (WHO) and a call to put antimicrobial resistance on a national register
  3. Cooperation from pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare industry to develop more antibiotics that has been lacking for the past 20 years.

Davies said in a press release, “Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics. And routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection.”

Davies also outlined “The five-year UK Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy and Action Plan” that includes “responsible use of antibiotics” to be accomplished by educating NHS staff on proper prescribing, tracking numbers of prescriptions for the drugs and research initiatives.

Davies says beating antibiotic resistance should extend to communities too; not just hospitals and include animals as well as humans.

Other recommendations from the report include encouraging higher rates of vaccination during pregnancy to curb flu and whooping cough.

Antibiotic resistance has been a concern for years, but little has been done by the pharmaceutical industry to develop new drugs. One of the reasons cited is that there is little profit margin.

In 2009, the WHO noted complacency about the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance, identifying the problem is one of the top 3 health threats in the world.

In November 2011, the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (BSAC) launched the Antibiotic Action campaign in response to the paper: “Report of the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy Initiative - The Urgent Need: regenerating antibacterial drug discovery development.”

Now the UK is sounding the alarm, voicing their concerns about antibiotic resistance and making new recommendations that will hopefully lead to new research, new antibiotics and increased surveillance.

BMJ 2013;346:f1597

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons