UK & World News
Antibiotics Resistance A Growing Health Threat
The Chief Medical Officer has raised the prospect of a future without cures for common infections - unless antibiotics are used more responsibly.
In a stern warning to doctors and patients, Professor Dame Sally Davies said antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to modern health.
"Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness at a rate that is both alarming and irreversible," she said.
"Bacteria are adapting and finding ways to survive the effects of antibiotics, ultimately becoming resistant so they no longer work.
"The more you use an antibiotic, the more bacteria become resistant to it."
In 2000, six per cent of serious bloodstream infections of E coli were resistant to the powerful antibiotic ciprofloxacin. That has now risen to 21%.
Penicillin is no longer effective against wound infections caused by the bug staphylococcus, and doctors are alarmed by the emergence of an untreatable form of the sexually-transmitted infection gonorrhoea.
Pharmaceutical companies are struggling to find new drugs.
Prof Davies said doctors should take care to prescribe antibiotics appropriately, and she urged patients not to demand antibiotics for winter ailments.
She told Sky News: "When we get coughs, colds, and sore throats, mostly they are viruses. Antibiotics don't help.
"GPs should help decide when they are needed, prescribe the right drug, and right dose and we as patients need to take the whole course."
A campaign launched to mark European Antibiotic Awareness Day featuring a hedgehog warns patients not to "get prickly" if doctors refuse to give them a prescription.
According to the Health Protection Agency, six per cent of patients keep unused antibiotics to use in future.
But antibiotics should only be used when prescribed by a doctor and should never be shared with anyone else.
Anna Luhar, a London lawyer, developed a deadly form of tuberculosis (TB) that is highly resistant to antibiotics.
She was isolated in hospital for nearly five months while doctors used a cocktail of six drugs to control the infection. It took 18 months to finally eradicate the bug.
She told Sky News: "They really had to search high and low to find drugs that would work.
"Some had to be imported from Germany and the US. One of them - streptomycin - is usually not used.
"They were really at the last line of defence."