antibiotic resistance Admiral PR

Grabbing the headlines: antibiotic resistance

How many times have we been told that antibiotic resistance is leading to problems with the nation’s health? Well, in 1988 Liam Donaldson, urged doctors not to use antibiotics to treat colds and coughs and Sir Kenneth Calman made a similar plea in 1999. In 2013, therefore, Professor Dame Sally Davies is not the first chief medical officer to warn of the dangers of antibiotic overuse. Only time will tell whether her plea is any more effective than her predecessors’ but hijacking the headlines last week with her strong use of shocking verbal images she has certainly executed a master class in how to grab a headline.

She described it as a ‘catastrophic threat’ in her first annual report, adding that the problem of microbes becoming increasingly resistant to the most powerful drugs should be ‘ranked alongside terrorism and climate change on the list of critical risks to the nation’.

‘If we don’t take action, then we may all be back in an almost 19th Century environment where infections kill us as a result of routine operations,’ she says and, not surprisingly, what sound almost like new claims featured on many newspaper (and online) front pages, although the story behind the story is familiar indeed.

A five-year UK Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy will be published shortly which will advocate the responsible use of antibiotics and strengthened surveillance. Dame Sally said it is a global issue for governments, the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry and individuals. She says pharmaceutical companies need to be encouraged to develop new drugs, because the manufacture of antibiotics is not viewed as profitable and urges the government to raise the issue during next month’s G8 Summit in London.

Did she therefore really need to frighten us with tales of rampant infection and attacks on our national health? The answer to that has some foundation in the fact that during the same week, it has also been revealed that breast cancer sufferers who eat a daily portion of dairy products are 50% more likely to die but people who drink a cup of coffee every day reduce their chances of a stroke. A glass of red wine a day is good for you, while an asiprin a day can help your heart and an apple a day keeps your doctor at bay. No wonder we are cynical. If Dame Sally had simply reiterated the old arguments that we have overused but underemployed antibiotics, her words might just have been resigned to the inside pages. Telling us it ranks alongside terrorism, climate change and Dickensian hospital conditions certainly gave an old story new life.

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