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New strategy launched to combat antimicrobial resistance

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‘Disease X’ could wreak havoc in the UK ‘Disease X’ could wreak havoc in the UK without proper planning

A strategy to address current and future threats to health, including antibiotic resistance and health inequalities, has been launched by Public Health England (PHE).

The strategy outlines five key threats to health in the UK. These are:

  • antibiotic resistance
  • declining vaccination rates
  • pandemic flu
  • emerging diseases
  • health inequalities

According to PHE, new mechanisms of antibiotic resistance add to the emerging infections threatening the country’s health, with the majority of the genetic changes in bacteria causing resistance to ‘last resort’ antibiotics such as carbapenems and colistin.

‘Our mission is to prevent, detect, respond to and reduce the impact of infectious diseases in this country. Our national immunisation programme prevents around 2.75 million cases of infectious diseases a year, while serious diseases such as TB are at record lows,’ said Professor Sharon Peacock CBE, Director of the National Infection Service at PHE.

‘But infectious diseases are evolving, and we must continue to innovate and strengthen the science that keeps us safe – whether that’s whole genome sequencing to rapidly contain outbreaks of known infections or enhanced surveillance and preparedness for when an unknown disease strikes.’

The strategy states that current infectious diseases challenges are amplified by increased movement of people and climate change, increasing the chances that the UK will be affected by a global pandemic in the coming years. Experts are preparing for both pandemic influenza and novel viruses such as the so-called ‘Disease X’ – is a hypothetical epidemic caused by a yet identified virus or bacteria.

A total of 12 diseases and infections were detected in England for the first time in the last 10 years – either acquired abroad or in this country.

‘Despite our arsenal of vaccines and antimicrobials, infectious disease remains a real threat to public health. We are constantly faced with new threats, and anti-microbial resistance is growing,’ said Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care and incoming Chief Medical Officer.

‘We have the ability to keep disease at bay but we must continuously update our response and expertise. This new strategy will enable us to detect and prevent new threats as they arise, keeping us safe from potentially devastating consequences.’

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