Antibiotics Must be Kept Available and Potent for Those Who Need Them - NDSC Calls for Appropriate Antibiotic Usage to Avoid Untreatable Infections in the Future


Experts in public health and disease surveillance today called for a review and reduction in the use of antibiotics in a bid to avoid the risk of a national health crisis in the future. They stated that inappropriate use of antibiotics for infections caused by simple coughs and colds, viral sore throats and cystitis is causing Irish people to build up resistance to microbes which could be life-threatening and they discussed the forthcoming implementation of a national antimicrobial resistance strategy. These remarks were made at a press conference held in advance of the annual St. Luke's Day meeting at the Royal College of Physicians entitled Antimicrobial Resistance: A Strategy for Prevention.

"Antibiotics represent the most significant medical advance of our century and save more lives than a cure for all forms of cancer. Resistance is however developing to almost every new antibiotic that has been introduced over the last 50 years. Evidence suggests that the amount of resistance present is related to the total amount of antimicrobials being used and the subsequent amount of inappropriate antibiotic use. The drivers to inappropriate prescribing are complex, but include patient anxieties and expectations and the consequent pressures on doctors, in particular GPs", said Dr Darina O'Flanagan, Director of the NDSC (National Disease Surveillance Centre).

"In Ireland there is a significant antimicrobial resistance problem. The magnitude of this problem cannot be measured fully because of the lack of national comprehensive surveillance information resulting in inadequate and scanty data on the prevalence of resistance to key disease causing organisms. What data is available suggests that important causes of potentially life-threatening infection such as meningitis and pneumonia can now be resistant to the standard treatments" said Dr Ed Smyth, Consultant Microbiologist at Beaumont Hospital who was also speaking at the press briefing.

Antimicrobial resistance is not an infectious disease, like smallpox or poliomyelitis, that we can eradicate. It is a natural response of microbes to exposure to antimicrobial agents. Therefore the approach has to be one of containment, aiming to reduce the rate of emergence and spread of resistance. The reduction of antimicrobial usage is not about cost cutting, or making it harder for people who need antibiotics to get them. It is about ensuring that a valuable resource is kept available and potent for those who need it, and about ensuring that routine treatment is high quality treatment and not unnecessary treatment.

It is against this background that the NDSC, in partnership with the Department of Health and Children has recognised the need for increased surveillance and a strategy to combat the problem of antimicrobial resistance.

The Department of Health and Children has therefore asked the NDSC to prepare a multidisciplinary strategy that will influence the nationwide reduction of antibiotic utilisation in Ireland. In response the NDSC has set up a 15 member multidisciplinary committee comprising representatives from the veterinary, pathology, nursing dental, pediatric, agriculture and pharmaeconomic professions. The committee also comprises a GP and public health representative and representatives from the Food Safety Authority, Consumers Association and pharmaceutical industry.

The objectives of this group, which is spearheaded by Dr Olive Murphy, Consultant Microbiologist at the Bon Secours Hospital, Cork, are to develop a surveillance system to monitor the level of antimicrobial resistance, to monitor the supply and use of antibiotics in Ireland, to develop guidance in relation to the appropriate use of antibiotics, to develop principles in relation to infection control in the hospital and community setting and to advise on future research in the area. Ultimately the work of the NDSC's subgroup on AMR will be complemented by a campaign, aimed at both the public and health professionals, which will comprise simple easy to remember messages and be targeted at the main areas of inappropriate prescribing.