10 September 2008
Ahead of its annual conference next week, the Health Protection Agency is warning about the need for new antibiotics to be developed to ensure the range of treatment options for some infections does not run out.
Alongside new development, other crucial factors in battling the war over so called ‘superbugs’ include more careful prescribing, better infection control and general awareness among the health profession and public about appropriate antibiotic use.
According to Dr David Livermore, an expert at the Agency who will speak about this issue at the conference: “The news relating to antibiotic resistance is currently a mixed picture. The good news is that we have more treatment options available for what we call gram-positive bacteria, for example with MRSA there are several antibiotics to choose from and a number of new options in the advance stages of development.”
The picture is not so good however, with another group of bacteria called gram-negative bacteria. For example with Acinetobacter there is sometimes only one treatment option available to doctors and in some rare situations gram-negative bacteria can cause infections that are untreatable. These multi-resistant gram-negative bacteria often cause infection in particular patient groups who are very sick such as those in intensive care units or those with chronic lung infections. This is a particular problem with Pseudomonas and Burkholderia in cystic fibrosis patients.
Dr Livermore said: “Antibiotics are a precious resource in fighting infections and one that we must do everything possible to preserve. This is why we need to ensure there is a constant range of options under development. Health Professionals also have a key part to play in ensuring the antibiotics we currently have are put to best use. Sensible prescribing is critical in keeping resistance at bay, and this is of particular relevance where a wide range of antibiotics are used in hospitals to protect vulnerable patients against infection. Patients can also play their part by being aware of the problem of resistance and not expecting antibiotics as treatment for themselves or their relatives if doctors do not recommend them.
“Over the last ten years the pharmaceutical industry has significantly invested in antibiotic treatments for bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus (including MRSA). There is however a big public health threat posed today by multi-resistant gram-negative bacteria and therefore there is an urgent need for the pharmaceutical industry to work towards developing new treatment options to tackle infections caused by these bacteria, in the same way as they did for bacteria like MRSA.
“It is a fact of life that bacteria will always try to find a way to survive and develop resistance. Resistance is also part of the price we pay for advances in medical technology and being able to keep sick patients alive for longer. We can however try to minimise this problem by ensuring antibiotics are used sparingly and that a range of new treatment options is in development.”
Professor Peter Borriello, Director of the Agency’s Centre for Infections, said: “Our monitoring of antibiotic resistance patterns is enabling us to tackle the problem head on, giving us advance sight of the issues that are likely to emerge in the future. This is vital, alongside the continued research and development into new treatments for infections and initiatives to raise awareness among health professionals and the public about appropriate use of antibiotics.
The problem of antibiotic resistance is likely remain with us for foreseeable future. But fight against resistance is not futile. Efforts to control the problem will be long and complex but these efforts are already underway.
Notes for editors
David Daley 020 8327 6647
Alex Baker 020 8327 7098
Kate Swan 020 8327 7097
Archana Rawal 020 8327 7750
Last reviewed: 10 September 2008