News

New campaign in east of England warns that taking antibiotics when you don't need them puts you and your family at risk

23 October 2017

As the Chief Medical Officer and experts around the world warn of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” and “the end of modern medicine”, Public Health England (PHE) launches a major new campaign to help ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’. The campaign warns people that taking antibiotics when they are not needed puts them at risk of a more severe or longer infection, and urges people to take their doctor’s advice on antibiotics and whether they need them.

Public Health England’s ESPAURR (English Surveillance Programme for Antimicrobial Utilisation and Resistance Report), published today, reveals that as antibiotic resistance grows, the options for treatment decrease. Worryingly, four in 10 patients with an E.coli bloodstream infection in England cannot be treated with the most commonly used antibiotic in hospitals.

The ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign urges the public to trust their doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s advice on antibiotics and if they are prescribed, take them as directed and never save them for later use or share with others.

Dr David Edwards, Consultant in Health Protection at PHE East of England, explains:

“Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections, such as meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis, but they are often used to treat illnesses, such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves.

“Taking antibiotics encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant, so ultimately antibiotics may not work when you actually may really need them. Taking antibiotics when it is not strictly necessary puts you and your family at risk of developing infections which in turn cannot be easily treated with antibiotics. Without urgent action, common infections, minor injuries and routine operations will become much riskier.

“It is important for people to understand that if they are feeling under the weather and see their GP or a nurse, antibiotics may not be prescribed if they are not effective for their condition.”

Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections, such as meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis, but they are frequently being used to treat illnesses, such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves. Taking antibiotics encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant. That means that antibiotics may not work when you really need them. It is estimated that at least 5,000 deaths are caused every year in England because antibiotics no longer work for some infections and this figure is set to rise with experts predicting that in just over 30 years antibiotic resistance will kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined.

Dr Tony Elston, Director of Infection Prevention and Control, Colchester Hospital NHS Foundation, said:

“An unnecessary antibiotic today may be harmful for your children due to antibiotic resistance.”

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, comments:

“Without effective antibiotics, minor infections could become deadly and many medical advances could be at risk; surgery, chemotherapy and caesareans could become simply too dangerous. But reducing inappropriate use of antibiotics can help us stay ahead of superbugs. The public has a critical role to play and can help by taking collective action. I welcome the launch of the ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign, and remember that antibiotics are not always needed so always take your doctor’s advice.”

Health Minister Steve Brine said:

“Following on from the global Call to Action conference held this month, we are asking people to help so we can make sure antibiotics keep working. This government is firmly committed to combatting drug resistant infections and refuses to allow modern medicine to grind to a halt – simple steps can make a huge difference.”

Public Health England’s new campaign is part of a wider cross-Government strategy, involving the agricultural, pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors, which tackles the threat of antibiotic resistance by increasing supply and reducing inappropriate demand. To help keep this precious resource in the fight against infections working, the public are asked to play their part and urged to always take their doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s advice on antibiotics.

For further information on antibiotics, their uses and the risk of resistance, please search ‘NHS Antibiotics’ online.