Are we to expect more infections in the future?

Will reducing antibiotic use lead to more infections?

By Tim Sandle     May 18, 2016 in Health London
A consensus is developing around restricting the use of antibiotics and antimicrobials. However, what is the impact on human health if the use of these pharmaceutical compounds is curtailed?


This question about a future state where antimicrobials are fewer frames a new research study set to be carried out at Imperial College in London. Here the research will consider: “will serious microbial infections increase faster if we continue to use antibiotics at the same rate or will there be a slowdown?”

Resistance to antimicrobials is a major problem for humanity. The phenomenon occurs as bacteria acquire resistance through mutation and adaptation. This means certain strains of bacteria become untreatable. One worst case prediction is that by 2050 the annual death toll from drug-resistant infections could reach 10 million, exceeding the numbers who die from cancer.

One reason why resistance occurs is through the overuse (even misuse) of antimicrobials in society. This arises because antimicrobials are prescribed for the wrong diseases (such as those caused by viruses); or where they used to create leaner farm animals; or where they are indiscriminately dumped, such as discharge into rivers.

A new generation of antimicrobial compounds has been slow to emerge. Here the market incentives have been lacking for the pharmaceutical sector and governments have been slow in backing research into new compounds.
With the call to restrict antibiotics to all but the most serious cases, what does this mean for healthcare in the future? Does it matter that the younger generation are carrying a greater abundance of antimicrobial resistant bacteria than their parents?

To consider these issues, the Imperial NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) will operate an 18-month study to assess whether the greater number of patients will be admitted to hospital with serious infections as a result of a lowering of the administration of antibiotics.

 For the data, researchers will examine information collected from hospital admissions and doctor appointments, as well as mortality data. The information will be used to monitor if reducing the number of antibiotics prescribed to patients will lead to a rise in the number of serious infections, or even more deaths.

According to Professor Alison Holmes, who is the director of the research center: “No country in the world – until now – has yet investigated whether such policies inadvertently led to an increase in sickness or death. Yet it’s crucial to establish whether Government actions are compromising care so that we can take targeted action to avoid this.”

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