Surge in superbugs: Official figures reveal antibiotic resistant infections up 9% on the year before

The number of antibiotic resistant infections soared by nine per cent in England in one year, official figures have revealed.

There were 61,000 cases – the equivalent of 165 a day – across the country in 2018, compared to 56,000 in 2017.

Serious drug-resistant bloodstream infections, which can be caused by UTIs or skin infections, have risen by a third in five years.

And almost 3,000 people were killed by superbugs in 2018, up from 2,450 in 2017, according to estimates from Public Health England (PHE). 

The figures highlight the growing threat of superbugs, which have been deemed as dangerous to humanity as climate change and terrorism. 

A surge in superbugs has seen antibiotic resistant infections soar by nine per cent in one year, official figures have revealed. Serious bloodstream infections - most commonly caused by E. coli (illustration pictured) have risen by a third in five years

A surge in superbugs has seen antibiotic resistant infections soar by nine per cent in one year, official figures have revealed. Serious bloodstream infections – most commonly caused by E. coli (illustration pictured) have risen by a third in five years

Antimicrobial resistance kills around 700,000 a year. It is mainly fuelled by the over-use of antibiotics in healthcare and farming.

Bacteria can become resistant – known as a superbug – when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics, or they are given out unnecessarily.

However, the statistics showed antibiotics are being doled out less than they used to, with a 17 per cent drop in prescription rates over the past five years. 

Health leaders have now reminded people to only take antibiotics when necessary, amid the worrying trend that is jeopardising medicine. 

Antibiotics should not be used to treat coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better on their own.

Dr Susan Hopkins, AMR lead at PHE said: ‘It’s worrying that more infections are becoming resistant to these life-saving medicines and we must act now to preserve antibiotics for when we really need them.

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Antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial infections that are unlikely to clear up on their own, may infect others, or pose serious risks. 

They are needed most when someone gets sepsis, pneumonia, a urinary tract infections (UTI), sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea or meningococcal meningitis.

Antibiotics are frequently being used to treat illnesses such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves. 

Taking antibiotics encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant. That means that antibiotics may not work when you really need them.  

Research in 2017 shows that 38 per cent of people still expect an antibiotic from a doctor when they visit with a cough, flu or a throat, ear, sinus or chest infection, according to PHE.   

‘Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them is not a harmless act – it can have grave consequences for you and your family’s health, now and in the future.’

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘Antibiotics are one of the most powerful tools we have against infection.

‘Resistance to these drugs therefore places much of modern medicine in jeopardy. A key component of our response to this problem is to ensure people use antibiotics appropriately.

‘The decrease in consumption of antibiotics is good news but the rise in resistant infections shows the threat is increasing and so there is more to be done.’ 

PHE’s latest English Surveillance Programme for Antimicrobial Utilisation and Resistance (ESPAUR) report was published today. 

Bloodstream infections (BSIs) were included in the report, which rose by 22 per cent between 2014 and 2018.   

E. coli was the most common cause, and babies under the age of one and over 65-year-olds are most at risk. 

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The rapid increased use of some antibiotics over the last three years has been blamed for the the rise in detected in E. coli BSI. 

Resistnat BSIs are some of the most potentially serious. Cases rose by 32 per cent in five years. 

There are also disparities across the country – the North East is burdened by AMR more than London, while the South East has higher levels of BSIs. 

PHE praised the 17 per cent drop in the number of antibiotic prescriptions issued in GP surgeries since 2014. Consumption has dropped by nine per cent.

And it said there is no evidence that more people are being admitted to hospital with serious infections as a direct result of fewer prescriptions from GPs. 

The public are being urged to heed the advice of their doctor, pharmacist or nurse as part of its Keep Antibiotics Working campaign.

Dr Hopkins said: ‘We have seen positive steps taken to reduce antibiotic use without affecting people’s recovery when they are unwell, and GPs should be congratulated in their ongoing work to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.’ 

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs said: ‘GPs are already doing a good job at reducing antibiotics prescribing, but it can’t be our responsibility alone.

‘We need the public to understand that antibiotics are neither a cure nor an appropriate treatment for many minor self-limiting conditions and viral infections, and if a GP advises against antibiotics, they are doing their best for the patient’s own good, and that of wider society.’

Professor Whitty said: ‘Antibiotic resistance is not just a matter for clinicians – the public also have a crucial role to play in helping to preserve these vital medicines.

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Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs. 

The World Health Organization has previously warned if nothing is done the world was headed for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.

It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate answers to the growing crisis.

Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics, or they are given out unnecessarily. 

Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism.

Figures estimate that superbugs will kill ten million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.

Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world. 

Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.

In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.

In September, the World Health Organisation warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.

Without antibiotics, caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would also become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.  


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