Antibiotic-resistant infections could trigger a new ‘hidden pandemic’ once Covid is over, experts warn

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  • Data from the UK Health Protection Agency shows infections fell 15% last year
  • But he warned that this was only because there was a limited mix of COVID restrictions.
  • He warned that antimicrobial infections are only likely to increase this year

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Experts warned today that antibiotic-resistant infections could trigger a new ‘hidden epidemic’ after the end of COVID-19.

The head of the UK’s Health Protection Agency, Dr Susan Hopkins, claimed that it is important that the country does not slip from one crisis to another.


She urged Britons to act ‘responsibly’, stressing that there is no need to take antibiotics to treat every cold or sore throat.

Antibiotic resistance, which is considered a threat as big as terrorism and global warming, kills 700,000 people each year.

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But experts fear that the crisis caused by unnecessary prescriptions of antibiotics will become an even bigger problem in the next few decades.

Dr Hopkins’ warning comes after his agency, which turned to Public Health England, showed antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections last year.

But she said the decline was likely only due to COVID restrictions such as frequent hand washing to cut the spread of superbugs.

Antibiotic-resistant infections fell last year for the first time since records began. But officials suggested that the decline was due to continued lockdown and COVID restrictions. The graph above shows the estimated number of antibiotic-resistant infections in the blood that occurred each year in England

Dr Hopkins said: ‘Antimicrobial resistance has been described as a hidden epidemic, and it is important that we do not come out of COVID and enter another crisis.

‘It is likely that COVID restrictions, including increased infection, prevention and control measures in 2020, also played a role in reducing and determining antibiotic resistance.

‘While these measures were serious, if we do not act responsibly, serious antibiotic-resistant infections will rise again.

She continued: ‘As we move into winter, with the increasing amount of respiratory infections in circulation, it is important to remember that many cold-like symptoms do not require antibiotics.

‘If you feel unwell, stay home. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them puts you and your loved ones at greater risk in the future.

When should you take antibiotics?

Antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial infections that are unlikely to get better on their own, can infect others, or pose a serious risk.

These are most needed when a person is suffering from sexually transmitted infections such as sepsis, pneumonia, urinary tract infection (UTI), gonorrhea or meningococcal meningitis.

But they are also often used to treat ailments like cough, earache and sore throat.

Experts advise against it, saying that these cases usually clear up on their own.

Taking antibiotics encourages the harmful bacteria living inside you to become resistant.

This means that medicines may not work as well when you really need them.

Research in 2017 showed that 38 percent of people with a cough, flu, or throat, ear, sinus or chest infection expect a doctor to take antibiotics.


Antibiotic resistance is considered by scientists to be one of the nation’s top health threats.

This is because it allows bacteria to evade common and once effective drugs, leaving doctors unable to treat diseases that were once curable.

Antibiotics work by attacking dangerous bacteria – such as E.coli that can trigger kidney failure in severe cases – and killing them to prevent infection.

But if the drugs are used too often, the bacteria can become resistant, making treatment redundant.

Bacteria can also become resistant if the wrong dosage is taken or if they are exposed to low levels of the antibiotic.

These may be insufficient to kill them but enough for the drugs to adapt to escape.

When this happens stronger antibiotics must be used to prevent disease, but there is a risk that bacteria will also develop resistance to them as they become more frequently used.

Statistics show that some 55,384 antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections were estimated to occur in England last year.

This was the lowest number since records began in 2017 and a 15 percent drop in the previous year.

But experts said the Covid restrictions ‘played a role’ in the drop. He said cases are likely to rise again this year.

The proportion of infections resistant to some antibiotics also rose, which experts said was evidence that superbugs will be behind even more infections this year.

UK health chiefs have been campaigning for years to prescribe fewer antibiotics to fight the emergence of superbugs.


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