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Antibiotic resistance might be the following “hidden pandemic”: British consultants

Rodolfo Parulan Jr. | Moment | Getty Images

LONDON – The coronavirus pandemic caught world attention in early 2020 and has not let it go since, but UK experts warn that antibiotic-resistant infections, often described as a ‘hidden pandemic’, should be the next big concern.

One in five people in the UK with a bloodstream infection in 2020 had an antibiotic-resistant infection, according to the UK health authority, even after a decrease in the number of antibiotic-resistant infections in 2019.

There are now fears that as winter approaches and we slowly emerge from the global Covid-19 outbreak, antibiotic resistance could rise again.

“Antimicrobial resistance has been described as a hidden pandemic and it is important that we do not get out of Covid-19 and get into another crisis,” said Dr. Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s senior medical advisor, on Wednesday.

“It is likely that the Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, including increased infection, prevention and control measures … Do not act responsibly and that can be as simple as washing your hands regularly and thoroughly.”

Antibiotics are crucial for the treatment of bacterial infections that cause pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis, and modern health care often relies on them to protect against infection during common medical procedures such as chemotherapy, cesarean section, and other surgeries.

Problematically, however, antibiotics have often been prescribed to treat coughs, earaches, and sore throats where they may have little or no effect.

Worse still, prescribing antibiotics when they weren’t effective or necessary has led to the emergence of antibiotic resistance, which occurs when bacteria stop responding to antibiotics and can cause potentially serious complications such as bloodstream infections and hospitalization.

Hidden pandemic

For years, experts have warned that antibiotic resistance could be one of the greatest threats to humanity. The World Health Organization describes it as “one of the greatest threats to global health, food security and development today”.

UKSHA’s Hopkins added that taking antibiotics when you don’t need them will only put you and your loved ones at higher risk in the future.

“When we go into winter and there are more respiratory infections around the world, it’s important to remember that many cold-like symptoms don’t require antibiotics. Stay home if you feel uncomfortable, ”she said.

Antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections decreased during the Covid pandemic. New data released Wednesday by the UKHSA showed such infections fell from 65,583 in 2019 to 55,384 last year.

It is the first time since 2016 that such infections have decreased, but still at higher levels than six years ago.

The decrease was “largely due to an overall decrease in recorded bloodstream infections, likely due to lower social mixing, improved hand hygiene and changes in access and delivery to health care,” the UKHSA said in a statement Wednesday.

Still, analysis of the bacteria that most commonly cause bloodstream infections, including E. coli, found that although the total number of bloodstream infections decreased in 2020 compared to 2016, the total proportion of infections resistant to antibiotics increased over the same period added the agency.

With one in five people with an infection going to be resistant to antibiotics by 2020, the UKHSA has warned that the data “suggests that resistant infections are likely to increase in the years following the pandemic and that ongoing action is needed”.

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