COVID-19 could be just the “tip of the iceberg” this winter

Peter Gibson ANTRUK announcements, Coronavirus COVID-19

With experts stating that 120,000 people could perish from Coronavirus in the closing months of the year (1), we are warning Britain had better brace itself for another crisis – antibiotic resistant infections.

And while hopes are high for a vaccine or an effective treatment for COVID-19, Antibiotic Research UK say the slow-burning problem of AMR shows no sign of abating, and that overuse of antibiotics this winter will only deepen the dilemma.

One of the chief causes of bacteria in our body becoming resistant to antibiotics is the overuse of the drug. We previously produced a heat map displaying the enormous disparity between the amount of antibiotics prescribed in summer and winter (2).

“What a cocktail of illnesses we could be facing this wintertime” said Professor Colin Garner, Chief Executive of Antibiotic Research UK, “viral colds and flu, plus COVID-19 where transmission will be more likely. However, the deadliest condition could be, antibiotic resistant infections. Every wrongly prescribed or misused antibiotic could be creating a scenario where simple infections could lead to death and routine hospital operations cancelled, due to fear of infection.”

Urinary tract infections, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections, and bacterial pneumonia are amongst the conditions that are already becoming antibiotic-resistant. The latter has been the tragic cause of death in a percentage of patients being treated for COVID-19 (3).

The answer to the crisis has to come from a whole societal approach, says Professor Garner. “Medics must not buckle under pressure and should prescribe antibiotics wisely. Patients must also stop demanding them for every illness. Farmers could play their part by sensible usage with their livestock and Governments should incentivise pharmaceutical companies to do more. The $1 billion commitment from big pharma to do research into new medications is encouraging but it is a long way from being the sole solution.”

With progress slow, Professor Garner could only offer these tips to the public to stay well this winter:

  • Ensure you have a flu jab, particularly if you are in a vulnerable group
  • See if you are eligible for a pneumonia inoculation
  • Good hygiene saves lives, so catch a sneeze in a handkerchief and cover a cough
  • Observe the social distancing rules that is in place
  • Do not re-use or share leftover antibiotics

Antibiotic Research UK has compiled several patient stories, detailing the devastating impact of drug-resistance (4). One of those case studies, Lisa Jones from Manchester, has endured a lifetime of lung infections. The 39-year-old admitted: “I am terrified about the coming winter. I have gone through months of self-isolation in a bid to beat the coronavirus and last winter I had a bout of pneumonia. I just seem to get recurring infections that have to be treated with a multitude of antibiotics. What happens if they run out or stop working?”

Antibiotic Research UK runs the world’s first patient support service to help those with drug-resistant infections. Anyone worried about antibiotic resistance should Telephone: 07367 784114 or Email: patient.support@antibioticresearch.org.uk

To donate to Antibiotic Research UK, the only charity in the world solely dedicated to fighting drug-resistant infections, go to https://www.antibioticresearch.org.uk/support-us/donate/