British Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson has said that doctors should stop prescribing antibiotics for coughs, colds and sore throats because their overuse is increasing the incidences of killer hospital superbugs.
He stressed the need for stopping the unnecessary use of penicillin and other commonly-prescribed medicines, which cost the National Health Service (NHS) 1.7 billion pounds a year.
AdvertisementJohnson said that superbugs likes MRSA were developing resistance to medicines because of overuse of antibiotics. He pointed out that antibiotics could not treat most colds, coughs and flu because viruses cause them.
"The past 60 years have seen great advances in health care and medicine. For example, the use of antibiotics has saved countless lives, but antibiotics do not work on most coughs, colds and sore throats and their unnecessary use can leave the body susceptible to gut infections like Clostridium difficile," the Telegraph quoted him as saying.
The newspaper report says that too-liberal use of antibiotics, especially when patients do not finish their courses, allows multiplication of bugs that have mutated to become resistant.
If antibiotic use is not curbed, doctors could run out of effective treatment as certain bugs become resistant to more and more drugs, the report adds.
Dr Mark Enright, professor of molecular epidemiology at Imperial College London, said that even common bacterial infections would usually go away on their own without requiring any treatment with antibiotics.
"In the old days, before we had problems with resistance, people thought it really didn't matter - you could throw antibiotics at these cases and you would pick up the odd one that was treatable that way," he said.
"I am sure there are still GPs who think they know best and think antibiotics are the global panacea we once thought they were," he added.
A 270 million-pound campaign against superbugs called 'Clean, Safe Care' is being launched in the country next month.
The campaign will also include an extra 45 million pounds for hospitals to spend on infection control nurses or antibiotic specialist pharmacists. All patients going into hospital will be screened for MRSA by 2009.
Hospital staff have already been asked to be "bare below the elbows" to help prevent the spread of infection between patients. All hospitals should undergo a "deep clean" by March this year.