Fast diagnostic tests to identify viral and bacterial infections are needed to reduce unnecessary prescribing, a report by the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance has found.
The report, Stopping unnecessary use of antibiotics, found that as many as two thirds of antibiotics prescribed in the UK were given for infections linked to viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics. It stated that healthcare professionals should have access to rapid diagnostic tests to quickly find out if it is appropriate to prescribe an antibiotic. ‘For far too long we haven't recognised the huge cost to society of increasing resistance when we use antibiotics that we don't need - such as antibiotics for flu which have no effect except to increase the chances of superbugs developing,’ said Lord O’Neill, chair of the review.
The report cites the example of countries such as Sweden and The Netherlands, which have managed to keep the prescription of antibiotics low by utilising rapid test technology. ‘The world needs rapid diagnostics to improve our use of antibiotics,’ Lord O’Neill added. ‘They are essential to get patients the right treatment, cut down on the huge amount of unnecessary use, and make our drugs last for longer.’
Another concern raised in the report was the prescription of powerful antibiotics that should be kept in reserve for the most serious cases where other drugs have failed. However, often these drugs are being prescribed inappropriately at an early point in the treatment. The report cites the example of gonorrhea in the UK, where a powerful ‘last-line’ drug is given on a precautionary basis to almost all patients. However, according to the report, 70% to 80% of cases would respond to abandoned, older antibiotics. ‘As a result, cases of multi drug-resistant gonorrhoea are increasing, for which treatment options are severely limited – presenting the very real risk that untreatable cases will emerge,’ the authors of the report commented.