Antibiotics are becoming increasingly ineffective at treating E. coli because of their over-prescription by health officials.
New Public Health England (PHE) data shows that 4 in 10 patients infected with E. coli are now resistant to antibiotics used by most hospitals.
Dr Neil Wigglesworth, President of the Infection Prevention Society, said: ‘The cost of inappropriate use of antibiotics is clear and is becoming ever more serious.’
Drug-resistant infections cause the deaths of around 5000 people in England each year and PHE estimates that by 2050, these infections could kill more people than currently die from cancer.
A major cause of this resistance is the overuse and over-dependency on antibiotics by healthcare professionals. For example, PHE states that, for E. coli, ‘antibiotics aren’t recommended, and may increase the risk of complications,’ yet many doctors prescribe them before considering other forms of treatment.
The Medical Director of PHE, Professor Paul Cosford, said: ‘We don't often need antibiotics for common conditions. The majority of us will get infections from time to time and will recover because of our own immunity.
‘The fact is if you take an antibiotic when you don't need it then you're more likely to have an infection that the antibiotics don't work for over the coming months.’
Such cases, and the growing global evidence that antibiotics are becoming less effective, have stoked fears of a ‘post-antibiotics apocalypse’, to use the phrase of England’s chief medical officer Prof Dame Sally Davies.
Doctors are now being told to change treatment styles to focus on rest, for those cases that don’t demand antibiotics, and preventative care.
Dr. Wigglesworth explains how: ‘Ensuring effective infection prevention practices in all health and care settings is an essential way of preventing infection from developing and spreading and there is clear evidence that early intervention through infection prevention saves lives as well as significant cost to the NHS.
‘Effective infection prevention stops the spread of resistant organisms and every infection that is prevented is one more person who doesn’t need a course of antimicrobial treatment.’