The huge problem of antibiotic resistant germs will ‘finish’ modern medicine unless confronted, the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, warned
Modern medicine is’ finished’ if the problem of antibiotic resistant germs is not confronted, the Chief Medical Officer warned today.
Dame Sally Davies said prescribing antibiotics for conditions for which they will do no good only made the problem worse.
She has called before for the development of new antibiotics as the current ones get increasingly less effective.
She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘Modern medicine as we know it – if we don’t halt this rise of resistance – will be finished.
‘It’s a very powerful statement and it is true.
‘Take cancer: most modern cancer treatments result in reducing your immunity and getting infections.
‘If those are bugs that are resistant to antibiotics then you are going to have a choice of do I take my chance the antibiotics won’t work, or do I do my bucket list?’
Dame Sally was reacting to the publication of new research by the Wellcome Trust which shows public understanding of antimicrobial resistance is still lacking.
She added: ‘We have got to help GPs in every way.
‘If they tell me by giving them a rule that will help the discussion with patients, we can do that.
‘But actually what they need is time with patients and patients being receptive.
‘That’s where this research is helpful – how do we get our community, our public, to understand antibiotics are most frequently not needed but when they are, treat them with respect?’
The researchers conducted a series of interviews and focus groups in London, Manchester and Birmingham.
They found that most people, if they had heard of antibiotic resistance at all, thought it was their body which becomes resistant to antibiotics, rather than the bacteria that cause drug-resistant infections.
This misconception often makes people feel like antibiotic resistance is someone else’s problem, the researchers said.
Few of those interviewed thought they overused or misused antibiotics so therefore they mistakenly think resistance will not be a problem for them.
One person interviewed during the research said: ‘The more you take, the more your body becomes resistant to it. They stop working, but I don’t take them very often.’
Research published today revealed that public understanding of antimicrobial resistance is still lacking. Most people, if they had heard of antibiotic resistance at all, thought it was their body which becomes resistant to antibiotics, rather than the bacteria that cause drug-resistant infections
Mark Henderson, of the Wellcome Trust, told the Today programme: ‘People had heard about (over prescription) by and large .
‘But interestingly, they had picked up that antibiotics resistance was a problem which occurred in people’s bodies.
‘That is not in fact what happens. It is actually the germs, the bacteria, that acquire the resistance through normal evolution.
Most people, if they had heard of antibiotic resistance at all, thought it was their body which becomes resistant to antibiotics, rather than the bacteria that cause drug-resistant infections
Mark Henderson, Wellcome Trust
‘One of the problems with antibiotic resistance is people not completing courses they have been prescribed. If you think it is your body that is becoming intolerant, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.’
The research suggested people understand the concept more readily when doctors, the media and other communicators talk about ‘drug-resistant infections’ or ‘antibiotic-resistant germs’, rather than ‘antibiotic resistance’.
This makes it easier to understand that it is bacteria that acquire resistance, not people’s bodies.
The misconception could help to explain why many people who are prescribed antibiotics fail to complete the course, believing that this will prevent their bodies from becoming resistant.
In fact, failure to complete a course of antibiotics can be a major factor in the development of drug-resistant infections.
This is because it exposes germs to enough of the drug to promote resistance, but not enough to kill them.
Dame Sally has called before for the development of new antibiotics as the current ones get increasingly less effective against bacteria such as clostridium (pictured)
And people were much more receptive when they were presented with real examples of how antibiotic resistance could affect them or their families, or with reference to specific bacterial infections that they might have had.
The scale of the problem was best explained when researchers showed people pictures of six common resistant bacteria which are becoming harder to treat.
Understanding the issue was about infections like strep throat, urinary tract infections (UTIs) or E-coli made the problem seem common, as most interviewees had had at least one of these illnesses and been treated with antibiotics.
DRUGS COMPANIES ‘NEED UP TO £25 BILLION TO FIGHT THE GROWING SUPERBUGS CRISIS’
Drugs companies need up to £25billion to fight the growing superbugs crisis, a Government advisor warned recently.
Taxpayers will need to subsidise big pharmaceutical firms if they are to develop vital new antibiotics over the next ten years, according to leading economist Jim O’Neill.
Drug-resistant infections will kill 10million people a year by 2050 if the problem is not urgently tackled, he said in May.
In a startling report, commissioned by David Cameron, Mr O’Neill said that the pharmaceutical industry is failing to deal with the issue.
‘Our arsenal of antibiotics is losing its effectiveness against drug-resistant bacteria, the so-called “superbugs”,’ his report warns.
‘Yet the new medicines we need are not being developed fast enough.’
No new class of antibiotic has been discovered since 1987 – but a new infection emerges on an almost yearly basis.
Diseases such as MRSA and C.Difficile have become major problems in our hospitals – evolving to become resistant to the limited number of antibiotics at our disposal.
Mr O’Neill, former chairman of Goldman Sachs, said that within a few years routine procedures such as hip operations will become impossible if we no longer have antibiotics to make them safe.
Some 41 new antibiotics are currently in development, but Mr O’Neill said most of these do not target the most urgent needs and will probably never see the light of day.
And explaining that antibiotic resistance could make routine operations like hip replacements or Caesareans deadly was also effective.
But for some patients, antibiotics was a ‘validation’ they were really ill and ‘hadn’t wasted the doctor’s time or my own’.
This means that in many cases, people want to be prescribed antibiotics, whatever the nature of the illness they have, and will deploy a series of tactics to ensure they do, which may contribute to antibiotic overuse.
The study comes after research published in April predicted that a new generation of superbugs resistant to antibiotics could kill up to 80,000 Britons in a single outbreak.
It warned that in the next 20 years, surgery could become too risky because of an increased risk of infection, while catching flu could have a ‘serious’ impact on individuals.
The figures, issued by the Cabinet Office, showed that previously effective drugs will become useless in the face of resistant bugs, causing a surge in the number of sufferers of illnesses such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.
And for the first time the annual National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies, which assesses the challenges posed by terrorism, natural disasters, disease and industrial strife, has included the dangers of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
The report says: ‘Without effective antibiotics, even minor surgery and routine operations could become high-risk procedures, leading to increased duration of illness and ultimately premature mortality.
‘Much of modern medicine, for example organ transplantation, bowel surgery and some cancer treatments, may become unsafe due to the risk of infection.
‘In addition, influenza pandemics would become more serious without effective treatments.
‘The number of infections complicated by AMR are expected to increase markedly over the next 20 years. If a widespread outbreak were to occur, we could expect around 200,000 people to be affected by a bacterial blood infection that could not be treated effectively with existing drugs, and around 80,000 of these might die.
‘High numbers of deaths could also be expected from other forms of antimicrobial resistant infection.’
Around 25,000 people die annually across Europe because of infections that are resistant to antibiotic drugs. Scientists have forecast the potential fatalities from an increasing resistance to drugs in HIV, tuberculosis, malaria.
Revealed, The Bugs That Are Rendering Antibiotics Obsolete
Patients infected with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, pictured) are 64 per cent more likely to die than those with a non-resistant form
MRSA – Patients infected with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are 64 per cent more likely to die than those with a non-resistant form of S. aureus.
People infected by resistant superbugs are also likely to stay longer in hospital and may need intensive care, pushing up costs.