Government's chief medical officer warns resistance to antibiotics is one of the greatest threats to modern health
- Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned there are 'few' public health issues of greater importance
- Today the Government's chief medical officer, Sally Davies, will address the World Health Assembly in Switzerland
- She will warn resistance to antibiotics will be a step back to the 19th century
- The Government is preparing a five-year plan to ensure antibiotics are prescribed properly
It comes a day after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there are 'few' public health issues of greater importance than antimicrobial resistance.
Medical experts from around the globe need to work together to try to tackle the 'catastrophic threat' of antibiotic resistance, he said.
Many of the drugs are being used unnecessarily for mild infections or illnesses which should not be treated with antibiotics - which is helping to create resistance, Professor Dame Sally Davies will say.
The Government is now preparing a five-year plan to make sure antibiotics are prescribed responsibly.
Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation, told The Daily Telegraph:
'Health care cannot afford a setback of this magnitude. We must recognise, and respon to, the very seirous threat of antimicrobial resistance.'
According to Dame Sally, there are two reasons for the problem.
The first is that we are massively overusing antibiotic drugs, which effectively teaches bacteria how to resist them.
The second is that pharmaceutical companies are not working hard to produce any new antibiotics because they are not seen as profitable.
British doctors say there are two particularly pressing dangers: the lung disease tuberculosis and the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoea.
In January, for example, experts from London University tested samples taken from 18 lavatories in public buildings in the capital.
The study reinforces previous scientific research which warns that drug-resistant forms of bacteria are building up in the environment, largely because of the fact that we are consuming so many antibiotics at home and in hospital, then flushing them into our water systems.
There, bacteria can ‘learn’ how to become immune to them.
But worse still, bacteria are also ‘learning’ how to resist drugs while they are inside our bodies because of the over-prescription of drugs.
In February researchers in the British Medical Journal estimated that nearly one in 20 prescriptions for antibiotics is actually unnecessary.
Doctors are handing out 1.6 million needless courses every year.
Experts place much of the blame for this problem on pushy parents.
And patients frequently insist on antibiotics to treat colds and flu, despite the fact that these illnesses are caused by viruses and not bacteria.
Last November, the ECDC wrote to all family doctors to warn them of the implications of routinely giving patients antibiotics because every single unnecessary prescription increases the risk of bacteria becoming resistant to treatment.
China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of antibiotics in the world, with at least 46 per cent of antibiotics being used in livestock
Rapid global transport systems means that any of these new super-infections can travel the world in days.