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Antibiotic resistance could be a 'hidden pandemic', warn health officials

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Antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections fell i Antibiotic resistant infections are in danger of rising in the post-pandemic period

New data shows that bloodstream infections dropped in 2020 for the first time since 2016 but remain at a higher level than 6 years ago, raising concerns of a potential pandemic.

The data, published by UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), shows that antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections fell in 2020 (from 65,583 in 2019, to 55,384) for the first time since 2016 but still remain at a higher level than 6 years ago. Importantly, the decline was largely driven by a reduction in recorded bloodstream infections overall, likely due to less social mixing, enhanced hand hygiene and changes to healthcare access and delivery.

Read more: Nursing workforce too chronically under-resourced to deal with pandemic

‘Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been described as a hidden pandemic and it’s important that we do not come out of COVID-19 and enter into another crisis,’ said Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at UKHSA.

‘It is likely that COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 including enhanced infection, prevention and control measures also played a part in driving down antibiotic resistance and prescribing. While these measures were severe, serious antibiotic-resistant infections will rise once again if we don’t act responsibly and that can be as simple as regular and thorough handwashing.’

Concerted antimicrobial stewardship efforts over several years has led to continued decreases in antibiotic prescribing, with antibiotic prescribing dropping further during the pandemic, from 18 Defined Daily Doses (DDDs) per 1,000 inhabitants per day in 2019 to 16 DDDs per 1,000 inhabitants in 2020 – driven by reductions in antibiotics usually prescribed for respiratory infections. Antibiotics of last-resort use increased in hospitals.

Read more: Services already unsustainable, says RCN

‘As we head into winter, with increasing amounts of respiratory infections in circulation, it’s important to remember that antibiotics are not needed for many cold-like symptoms,’ added Dr Hopkins.

‘Stay at home if you feel unwell. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them only puts you and your loved ones at more risk in the future so please listen to your GP, nurse, dentist or pharmacist’s advice.’

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