Antibiotic Resistance: why the fuss and what simple actions can everyone take?

06 Jan 2015

Written by Dr Diane Ashiru-Oredope

Antibiotics have revolutionised modern medicine. Since the 1940s they have dramatically reduced the number of deaths caused by infections and infectious diseases and also allowed us to introduce more and more advanced medical procedures that rely on antibiotics to make them safe.

For instance, antibiotics help us to prevent or treat infections which can occur when people are receiving cancer treatments, which damage our immune system, or when having transplant surgery which requires drugs to suppress the immune system so the patient’s body does not reject their new organ.

But now urgent action is needed because bacteria are becoming resistant to our medicines at an alarming rate. If we don’t fight antibiotic resistance now we risk going back to 1930s style medicine, an era where simple infections killed. An infected cut could again become life threatening and illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis and tuberculosis will once again become mass killers.

The future implications are frightening but this is also a problem right now. Currently 25,000 people already die every year in Europe because of infections resistant to antibiotics. In USA the figure is 23,000 deaths every year. In fact, these figures are thought to be an underestimate.

Although some work is on-going to develop new antibiotics, the pipeline is very low and slow. It’s also important to understand that even if new antibiotics get onto the shelves in the next couple of years, they will also become ineffective if we do not take collective action now to use antibiotics appropriately. This means cutting out misuse and overuse.

There is no blame game – we all have to work together. That means prescribers and health professionals in all fields, health leaders, scientists, politicians and patients.

The call by Longitude Prize to develop an affordable point-of-care test to identify when antibiotics are needed is an important part of this work as we simply have to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.

At Public Health England we’re working with a wide range of partners and promoting the message that there isn’t one single solution to antibiotic resistance – we can only tackle the problem with work at Government level, projects like the Longitude Prize and behaviour change right down to individual level.

If you’re reading this and wondering if you can help, the good news is that you can. Firstly, you can take a simple personal action by visiting the Antibiotic Guardian website and choosing one pledge that you will carry out to help save these vital medicines. There are pledges for the public, healthcare professionals and leaders.

You can also watch this antimicrobial resistance video and share it, or talk to your family and friends about the fact that we don’t always need antibiotics when we’re ill. The Treat Yourself Better website helps people make good choices.

If you’re a health professional, alongside making your Antibiotic Guardian pledge, we urge you to read this blog and use or promote official antimicrobial resistance information and resources.

Please join the fight today, and save some of our most precious medicines.

Dr Diane Ashiru-Oredope is the Pharmacist Lead for Antimicrobial Resistance and Stewardship and HCAI at Public Health England and the Department of Health Expert Advisory Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infection (ARHAI). An antimicrobial pharmacist by background, she project led the published DH/ARHAI national antimicrobial stewardship guidance for secondary care – Start Smart then Focus – and the ARHAI/PHE national Antimicrobial Prescribing and Stewardship Competences. She is the professional project lead for the English Surveillance Programme for Antimicrobial Utilisation and Resistance (ESPAUR) and Chairs European Antibiotic Awareness Day and Antibiotic Guardian in England.