MRSA Action UK: Information, education and innovation called for to halt antibiotic resistance

As doctors, microbiologists and healthcare practitioners respond to the challenges set by our Chief Medical Officer in the Five Year Antimicrobial Strategy, we need to draw on the success in the reduction in the numbers of MRSA and C.diff cases. There is more to do, reductions reflect the actions taken in reducing patients harmed by these avoidable infections, including promoting assiduous hand-hygiene, cleaning and other infection prevention measures, such as skilling healthcare practitioners in more effective aseptic techniques.

Other infections that have not featured so highly in the media, such as urinary tract infections, can be life threatening, particularly if they are much more resistant to antibiotics (or antimicrobials).

Resistant strains of E.coli are often brought into the hospital environment when people are taken ill in the community and then admitted. Superbugs are strains of bacteria that have been become resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotics are a different kind of drug, their effectiveness is compromised by misuse, and they have a dramatic ability to change DNA. Their genetic makeup gives a very strong selective advantage, and resistant variants that are left will encourage resistant strains to flourish.

The human body hosts a lot of bacteria, on the skin, up the nose, or in the throat for example. Every time we take an antibiotic, there will be resistance, the bacteria can move to a different part of the body, and, something that no other type of drug can do, will affect patients, carers and healthcare workers, by passing on the resistance to anyone who is in close contact with the person taking the antibiotic.

I know the consequences of not treating an infection aggressively enough with antibiotics. My 92 year-old father nearly died from a resistant form of E.coli in 2010, he had previously had an infection in 2008, it was treated in hospital, but not aggressively enough. His health picked up briefly but then started to decline, in 2010 he was readmitted for a recurrence of the E.coli infection which caused an abscess on his liver, whilst attempting to drain the abscess, it burst causing infection in the bloodstream.

Antibiotic treatment was given aggressively, he was placed in ICU, and the family were told by the consultant treating him that he would not resuscitate, as he was so poorly it was believed he would not recover. My father hadn't used antibiotics a lot, and had been fairly healthy over the last 30 years. He pulled through the critical stage and the infection was treated aggressively for 8 weeks. He had been given only a 10% chance of survival, at age 89. It was the skill of the team looking after him and the aggressive treatment with antibiotics that saved his life.

Antibiotics have to be used in the right dosage, there is a need to educate patients and doctors to give the antibiotics judiciously to have the best chance of fighting infection.

Improving the knowledge and understanding of antibiotic resistance and preserving the effectiveness of existing treatments is essential. Educating healthcare practitioners and the public is also key to the Five Year Antimicrobial Strategy’s success.

Encouraging the development of new antibiotics, and very importantly, diagnostics are also an essential element of keeping up with the pace needed in fighting antibiotic resistance. Regulation needs to be expedient enough to encourage innovation, but safety must not be compromised in doing so. Antibiotics are golden bullets, but there is no antibiotic that exists that will never become resistant to bacteria, and we are already seeing some illnesses that are multi-resistant and untreatable.

We hope to help promote the work needed in the most important field of medicine, all other advances in treatments would be untenable and many life saving operations and treatments would not be possible without effective antibiotics.


Derek Butler

Chair, MRSA Action UK

Telephone: 07762 741114