Government pushes for fewer antibiotic prescriptions to ward off 'post-antibiotic apocalypse'

People are being urged not to ask their doctor for antibiotics as part of a new campaign aimed at tackling growing resistance to the drugs. Credit: PA

A campaign to tackle the growing resistance to antibiotics is urging people not to ask their GP for antibiotic drugs. More than 5,000 people die every year in England due resistance to antibiotics, Public Health England warned at the launch of its Keep Antibiotics Working campaign.

In order to counter the threat of what Professor Dame Sally Davies, England's Chief Medical Officer, has called the a "post-antibiotic apocalypse," the government wants to see a reduction in the number of prescriptions from doctors.

Resistance occurs when a bacteria changes in such a way antibiotics no longer work.

"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,” Dame Sally said.

"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."

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at PHE, called antibiotic resistance “one of the most dangerous global crises facing the modern world today.”

"Taking antibiotics when you don't need them puts you and your family at risk of developing infections which in turn cannot be easily treated with antibiotics,” he said. "Without urgent action from all of us, common infections, minor injuries and routine operations will become much riskier."

Scientists suggest that in 30 years antibiotic resistance will likely kill more people globally than cancer and diabetes combined.

However, research by British scientists has revealed antibiotic resistance may have an "Achilles heel."

Studies show an enzyme plays a significant role in helping bacteria destroy a group of antibiotics called called beta-lactams, and a combination of two enzyme-inhibitors and the antibiotic aztreonam kills off some of the most resistant bacteria.

"Our bacteriology research has further demonstrated that beta-lactamases are the real 'Achilles heel' of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that kill thousands of people in the UK every year,” Dr Matthew Avison, from the University of Bristol's School of Cellular & Molecular Medicine, said.

"Structural/mechanistic work on beta-lactamase enzymes ... is helping to drive the discovery of wave after wave of beta-lactamase inhibitors, including the potentially game-changing bicyclic boronate class, shown to be effective in our research, and recently successful in Phase I clinical trials.

"This is an exciting time for researchers studying beta-lactamase inhibitors. At the risk of sounding like King Canute, it is the first time for a decade that there is some genuine positivity about our ability to turn back the rising tide of beta-lactam antibiotic resistance."