COVID-19: Antibiotic use decreased during first year of pandemic, research suggests

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There was a significant drop in antibiotic use during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new analysis has found.

Antibiotic Research UK said there was a 17% decrease in GPs prescribing the drugs in England in 2020, compared with the previous year.

The charity said the decrease “hints at the scale of overprescribing in normal times”.

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Antibiotic resistance 'one of the most dangerous global crises facing modern world'

Antibiotic resistance 'one of the most dangerous global crises facing modern world'

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There have been big drives to reduce the number of unnecessary prescriptions to try and tackle the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

Resistance to medicine occurs when bacteria mutates and can no longer effectively be tackled by antibiotics, which can make infections more deadly.

Antibiotics are often used to treat serious bacterial infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis but are often prescribed for coughs, earaches and sore throats, which can get better on their own.

In 2019, health officials in the UK unveiled a plan to cut drug-resistant infections by 10% and reduce human antibiotic use by 15% over the next five years as part of a new strategy to tackle superbugs.

The new UK strategy, which has been backed by the prime minister, will see the government adopt a 20-year plan with targets to reduce infection and antibiotic use among humans and in livestock and pets.

The charity, which conducted the analysis with health research company Costello Medical, examined NHS data published on OpenPrescribing.net and found prescriptions in England fell from March 2020 to February 2021 and remained steady throughout the year, without the winter peak seen in previous years.

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Professor Colin Garner, chief executive of Antibiotic Research UK, said: “The dramatic fall in antibiotic prescribing during the COVID pandemic could be due to many factors including less infection transmission during lockdowns and fewer visits to GPs.

“More work is needed to understand the extent to which each of these factors has resulted in this drop in antibiotic prescribing, but the data does tell us that antibiotic prescribing can be reduced to help protect us all from the danger of the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.”

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