Research published by the Wellcome Trust has found that most people, if they have heard of antibiotic resistance at all, think it describes the body becoming resistant to antibiotics.
But bacteria that causes drug-resistant infections would render everyone immune to antibiotics, and this is what the term actually means.
The correct definition is more serious, according to Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, who has claimed today that modern medicine is’ finished’ if we don’t find a solution to the problem of antibiotic-resistant germs.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, she said:
‘Modern medicine as we know it, if we don’t halt this rise of resistance, will be finished.
‘Take cancer: most modern cancer treatments result in reducing your immunity and getting infections. If those are bugs that are resistant to antibiotics then you are going to have a choice of do I take my chance the antibiotics won’t work, or do I do my bucket list?’
Her recommendation is that doctors refrain from over-prescribing antibiotics when they aren’t necessary. She also says that there needs to be greater public awareness about the seriousness of antibiotic resistance.
The research suggests that understanding is improved when the concept is referred to as ‘antibiotic-resistant germs’.
The misconception has real consequences because, according to the study, fear of antibiotic resistance leads patients to end treatment courses earlier than they should. Small doses of antibiotics work like immunisations for germs. They expose bacteria to enough of the drug to bring about resistance, but not enough to kill them.