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The Growth of Antibiotic Resistance

The Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has asserted the worldwide growth of microbial resistance is a threat as serious as terrorism or global warming. This issue has been in and out of the limelight for many years but the stark warning delivered by Dame Sally on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ programme has catapulted it back to the forefront of the public’s attention. The BBC article on this news story can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21737844

It was suggested by Dame Sally that unnecessary prescription of antibiotics by GPs along with a lack of innovation and development in the pharmaceutical industry has given rise to the risk that in the years to come we may lose the war against microbes. Dame Sally said that "If we don't take action, then we may all be back in an almost 19th Century environment where infections kill us as a result of routine operations”.

Dame Sally is not the first Chief Medical Officer to issue such warnings about antibiotic resistant organisms. Both Sir Kenneth Calman in 1999 and Liam Donaldson in 2008 made comments concerning the dangers posed by the growth in antibiotic resistance.

According to the Department of Health E.Coli and Klebsiella bacteria accounted for 36% and 7.8% of blood infection-causing organisms for the period between April 2011 and March 2012. This represents a two thirds rise in recent years, whereas the instances of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus (MRSA) have decreased by 80% and in the same period accounted for only 1.6% of blood infection-causing organisms. The drop in occurrences of MRSA has been attributed to increasing hygiene standards in hospitals.

In her second Annual Report Dame Sally estimates that half of 5,000 deaths caused by Gram-Negative blooding poisoning, of which E.Coli and Klebsiella belong, involve an antibiotic resistant organism. This is a startling statistic and highlights the immediate dangers we face. It has been proposed in the same report that the best way to counter this threat is by incentivising pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics, improving hygiene standards, ensuring current antibiotics are only prescribed when needed and also actively monitoring the situation through better surveillance of NHS data.

In addition the report also calls for the Government to raise this issue with both members of the G8 and the World Health Organisation. Therefore this is a very serious issue which warrants careful consideration at an international level, and ultimately, everyone reading this will have an interest in how the problem is tackled over the coming years.