Tackling the ‘silent pandemic’ of antimicrobial resistance – UKHSA blog

Dr Sam Ghebrehewet, Interim Regional Deputy Director of UK Health Security (UKHSA) North West.

As we learn to live with COVID-19, now is the time to tackle the ‘silent pandemic’ of antimicrobial resistance, says Dr Sam Ghebrehewet, Interim Regional Deputy Director of UK Health Security (UKHSA) North West.

The recent World Antimicrobial Awareness Week provides an ideal opportunity to highlight the growing problem of resistance to antimicrobial medicines.

Going forward, we need to keep spreading awareness of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) which is one of the most urgent threats to our health.

An antimicrobial is an agent that kills microorganisms or stops their growth. For example, antibiotics treat serious bacterial infections, such as meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis. But they are frequently used to treat illnesses, such as coughs, earache and sore throats, that can get better by themselves.

The more we use these drugs, the less effective they become, as microbes (tiny organisms like bacteria, viruses and fungi) develop resistance to them.

The danger of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is that it makes infections harder to treat and antibiotics will stop working when we need them the most. Without effective antibiotics, cancer treatments and common surgeries like caesareans will become very high-risk procedures.

The data in our recently published ESPAUR report on antibiotic prescribing and resistance shows that the number of antibiotic-resistant infections rose by 2.2% in 2021 compared to 2020.

Here in the North West, there were 3,276 estimated resistant bloodstream infections, at a rate of 44.5 per 100,000 population, the second highest rate in English regions.

Interestingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw fewer bloodstream and antibiotic resistant infections, partly due to changes in healthcare delivery and health behaviours.

As healthcare systems return to pre-pandemic ways of working, now is a pivotal moment to focus on AMR – which is often referred to as the ‘silent pandemic.’

This year, the theme of WAAW was ‘Preventing Antimicrobial Resistance Together.’ Policy makers, health and social care workers and patients need to keep on working together to prevent this pandemic from getting worse.

Becoming an Antibiotic Guardian and encouraging others to do the same can help the public and healthcare professionals to think about how they can make better use of antibiotics to prevent drug-resistant infections.

Healthcare professionals should reduce inappropriate prescribing by always checking the guidance for dose and duration, as well as involving patients in shared decisions about their treatment, such as offering back-up prescriptions if symptoms do not improve.

And we’re reminding people not to ask their doctor, nurse, dentist or pharmacist to prescribe antibiotics for colds, flu, COVID-19 because they do not work for these viral illnesses.

Only take antibiotics only when they are prescribed and necessary, this will help ensure that we have effective antibiotics in the future. And always take them as directed – never save them for later or share them with others.

Avoid the spread of infectious illnesses by washing your hands regularly and using tissues to catch coughs and sneezes.

If we all play our part, we can help save millions of lives, preserve antimicrobials for generations and secure the future from drug-resistant diseases.