Experts say it’s a threat every bit as dangerous as war or climate change and it started in a GP’s surgery near you.
Antibiotic overuse has given rise to drug resistant superbugs and the failure to tackle this problem means we could be killed by minor infections within the next 20 years. England’s Chief Medical Officer cautions it could return medicine to the dark ages.
In a bid to avoid this, the government published directives this week aiming to reduce antibiotic use by 15% in 5 years, and to prevent the 10 million deaths each year globally by 2050, which are predicted if we don’t tackle the problem resistance now.
Read on to learn more about antibiotics, superbugs and the real reason you should always finish your course of antibiotics
What are antibiotics?
Introduced in the 1940’s and hailed as wonder drugs; antibiotics are used to treat various types of bacterial infection.
However, it is 30 years since a totally new antibiotic has been introduced. In fact, all antibiotics brought to market in the past 30 years have been variations on existing drugs already discovered by 1984. For every single antibiotic, there are bacteria that have developed some degree of resistance.
Resistance, plus the vital reason you should always finish your course of antibiotics
Antibiotics kill bacteria and it is important they eliminate them all with each course. When you are prescribed a course of antibiotics, you are given enough of the medication to treat the bacterial infection you are suffering from. Therefore, it is vital you finish the entire course. If following a course of antibiotics, not all the bacteria are eliminated, the ones that survive and have been exposed to that antibiotic, can go on to develop a way to prevent being destroyed by that antibiotic in the future. These resistant bugs reproduce and spread, going on to become ‘superbugs’ and making antibiotics less and less effective.
We have all heard of MRSA – it is one of the scourges of hospitals. MRSA stands for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus – which just means it is a specific bug that is resistant to a particularly helpful antibiotic and therefore far harder to eradicate.
Excessive antibiotic use increases the number of resistant bacteria, making the antibiotics less effective for both animals and humans.
In many countries’ antibiotics are used far too widely. Antibiotics are routinely added to many of our common food products – farmed fish and animals are treated with antibiotics to try and prevent them from catching infections. In addition, if manure from these animals are used on agricultural soil, traces of their antibiotics can be found in our fruit and vegetables. Furthermore, with all the people taking antibiotics, despite our water being extremely well treated, it is inevitable there remain residual antibiotics in our public water system.
The more we are exposed to these and ingest them, the more likely bugs are to develop resistance to these antibiotics when we really need them.
At the moment, if one antibiotic doesn’t work, you simply try another. However, as antibiotic resistance spreads, the options become narrower.
Sepsis is a frighteningly common cause of death in the UK with 44,000 deaths every year. If sepsis is treated early enough with antibiotics able to kill the specific bacteria, the person can make a full recovery. Unfortunately, many of these deaths have resulted from harder to treat infections caused by antibiotic resistance.
Since 2015, England has seen a 35% increase in antibiotic–resistant blood infections.
Read our article on sepsis here: an occasion when antibiotic treatments are absolutely vital: https://firstaidforlife.org.uk/update-on-sepsis-what-you-need-to-know/
What is the government’s response?
The government aims to reduce the use of antibiotics in humans by 15% over the next five years and to reduce antibiotic use in animals by 25% from 2016 levels by next year.
By 2025, the plans aim to cut the number of drug-resistant infections by 5,000 (10%) and to prevent a minimum of 15,000 patients every year from contracting infections as a result of their healthcare.
Plus, Public Health England wants to see better information for patients and carers about the inappropriate use of antibiotics.
Additionally, they want to see increased efforts by the general public and health professionals to prevent infections occurring in the first place.
90% of antibiotics are prescribed by GP’s
50% of patients seeing their doctor for a cold or cough leave with a prescription -even though these conditions will generally clear up on their own.
A key factor is patient expectation: a survey revealed 38% of people expect to leave their GP surgery with a prescription for antibiotics and don’t feel they are getting value if they don’t.
Areas of the UK where over-prescription is more common also have the highest levels of resistance.
But things are changing. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets runs a ‘name and shame’ system that shares amongst the other practices, which GP’s practice has prescribed the most antibiotics that month. The aim is for everyone to work together to improve change prescribing practise. It has already had tangible results.
What the government plans to do to incentivise drug companies to help?
The government wants to change the way it funds drug companies to encourage them to develop new medicines. A new payment model is to be trialled so pharmaceutical companies will be paid for drugs, not by the quantity sold as currently happens, but by how beneficial they are as medicines to the NHS.
What you can do to help?
Practising good hygiene can help combat unpleasant bacteria and viruses that can make us very ill.
Read our comprehensive article on the practical steps you can take to ensure you and your family use the best methods of dealing with germs at home, at school at work and when unwell. To read our article click here: https://onlinefirstaid.com/avoid-germs-stay-healthy/
Please also think very carefully next time you visit your GP. Antibiotics will not help with common viral infections, if you are laid low with a virus, there is very little that your GP can do to help. You are best to stay home, rest, eat well, drink lots of water and nurse yourself back to health. If you develop a secondary bacterial infection, that is the time for antibiotics.
It is strongly advised that you complete an online or attend a practical or online first aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Click here or call 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses. First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made or actions taken based on this information.