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Wednesday, April 22, 1998 Published at 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK


Fears over 'superbugs'

There is concern that the over-prescribing of antibiotics could increase the resistance of bacteria

The over-prescription of antibiotics is threatening people's ability to fight infectious diseases, according to a new parliamentary report.

The BBC's health correspondent Fergus Walsh says some bacteria may become resistent to drugs
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee says that diseases such as TB, meningitis, malaria and the "hospital virus" MRSA are becoming increasingly resistant to common antibiotics.

The committee says that doctors who prescribe the drugs unnecessarily to their patients could end up doing them more harm than good. The more antibiotics are used, the faster bacteria learn how to resist their effects.

[ image: Some diseases could become untreatable, the report says]
Some diseases could become untreatable, the report says
There is also concern about the routine use of antibiotics in farming.

The peers have recommended urgent action to stop the clock turning back to a time when there was no protection against killer diseases.

The warning comes as doctors at the Public Health Laboratory Service reportedly discovered a new super-drug resistant bug which could kill people with weak immune systems.

Professor Hugh Pennington, who led the E.coli inquiry in Scotland, says antibiotics are used "like smarties" (21")
Inquiry chairman Lord Soulsby said: "The greatest threat is complacency, from ministers, the medical profession, the veterinary service, the farming community and the public at large.

"Our report is a blueprint for action. It must start now, if we are not to return to the bad old days of incurable diseases before antibiotics were available."

Calls for an effective campaign

The Lords have recommended better education for doctors who over-prescribe antibiotics, a public information campaign and a surveillance system to monitor the drugs' effectiveness.

Their recommendations were welcomed by Health Secretary Frank Dobson who said the report was "valuable, constructive and timely".

He said the government would study the recommendations closely and issue a response in due course.

He added: "Antimicrobial resistance is to some extent an inevitable result of antibiotic use, but the increasing prevalence of resistant strains is something which the government takes very seriously.

"Our main aims must be to prevent both the further emergence of resistance as far as possible and the spread of resistant organisms. We also need to ensure that the best use is made of the antibiotics that are currently available."

He said the Standing Medical Advisory Committee was expected to produce a report on antimicrobial resistance in clinical practice in July.

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