Antibiotic Research UK – Together we can save modern medicine

Annika Howard
Together we can save modern medicine - Coronavirus opens the door to secondary bacterial infections

We talked to our member Antibiotic Research UK to find out more about their work, the importance of effective antibiotics that work, the danger and implications of antibiotic resistance and the support they offer people through the charity’s helpline.

What is Antibiotic Resistance?

We all know the value of antibiotics when we have a bacterial infection. But resistance to antibiotics is on the rise – that’s when natural bacteria in our body are no longer affected by the antibiotics we use.

The resulting antibiotic-resistant infection can be fatal so it’s serious. Nearly every medical procedure, from cancer treatment and organ transplantation to hip or joint replacement, is dependent on effective antibiotics.

Modern medicine really depends on antibiotics that work.

What does Antibiotic Research UK do as a charity?

There are three elements to our vision. The first is scientific discovery; new antibiotics, new combinations of antibiotics, and even new antimicrobial treatments that offer an alternative to antibiotics.

We have already shown success with a non-antibiotic treatment that we developed against travellers’ diarrhoea.

The second part of our vision is about helping the public and healthcare professionals understand the rising danger of antibiotic resistance.

The final element is our patient support programme, which provides reliable information and support to patients and their families through our helpline.

Why do people call the helpline?

People who call Antibiotic Research UK patient support helpline are often suffering from chronic or recurring bacterial infections which have become resistant to most antibiotics.

These are often urinary tract infections (UTIs), lung (or chest) infections, or skin infections like MRSA or cellulitis.

Patients (and sometimes family members) contact us because the symptoms of infection keep reappearing, or just won’t clear up; others have illness and symptoms kept under control by those few antibiotics left that still work for their particular infections.

But each of them, and their families, are worried that the day is coming when an antibiotic can no longer be found that works – and the outcome could be life-threatening.

This is compounded by the fact that information available online is highly variable, so we seek to provide and signpost to accurate trustworthy information.

What do patients ask?

Questions are wide-ranging from “ I’ve had four or five different antibiotics now that have not cleared the infection – does that mean I have a resistant infection?” to very complex questions like “ I am due to have a splenectomy soon – will I need to take antibiotics all my life, and will they always work?”

The more complex questions sometimes require our patient support team to investigate further with medical experts like microbiologists, infectious disease doctors and antimicrobial pharmacists but this is all done confidentially.

How does our helpline help patients?

Many of those who call us feel quite helpless, often frustrated and incredibly isolated – and need someone to listen to them describe what they are living through and dealing with.

Sadly, the impact of antibiotic resistance on everyday life is not well-publicised so patients’ friends, work colleagues, and families struggle to understand or empathise with how health can vary day to day.

For example, they may have to cancel a day out with their friends because they feel so fatigued or feverish, or just listless.

As we listen, we try to distill the story into the main issues concerning them. Often, they have unanswered questions or found misinformation online.

What else does Antibiotic Research UK do?

We have developed leaflets on managing infections for those who are living with specific types of resistant bacteria.

Our website contains a lot of information about bacteria, antibiotics and resistance.

During helpline conversations, we also encourage patients to consider writing down their experiences of living with or dealing with a resistant infection and share them on our website. You can read some of them here.

Many are happy to include names and a photograph, but others remain anonymous because they feel there is still a stigma around carrying an antibiotic resistant infection.

Patients often comment that sharing feels cathartic – and it helps them to know they are helping others.

Who will you talk to if you contact Patient Support?

The helpline is operated by a small team consisting of Arlene, a pharmacist and Jodie, a nurse, both of whom have experience in antibiotic stewardship.

How has COVID-19 affected the helpline?

Antibiotics do not treat viruses such as COVID-19, but those severely ill with COVID-19 are very susceptible to secondary bacterial infections which can only be treated with antibiotics eg. those on ventilators are particularly susceptible.

Sadly, it is these secondary bacterial infections that are a significant cause of death.

We have answered many queries about COVID-19 - for example, whether people are more susceptible because they are already on antibiotic treatments or have suffered resistant infections.

To meet this need for accurate information, we are producing regular website blogs to inform people about COVID-19 and why it is essential that new antibiotic treatments are developed.

Our new feature Ask ANTRUK allows patients to ask questions anonymously that we try to answer and add to our website collection of common FAQs on COVID-19.

Antibiotic research - the future

We have a long way to go in solving what the World Health Organisation says is the biggest health problem facing humankind, predicting 10 million deaths from antibiotic resistance by 2050 if we don’t act now.

COVID-19 has taught us that we must be prepared for more pandemics to come.

Similarly, unless we develop new antibiotic treatments, people will die. And many will continue to suffer in their day to day lives.

Antibiotic Research UK will continue this urgent work, and grateful that so many people have donated to, or fundraised for the charity so we can offer this vital Patient Support programme.

Talk to us, we’re here to help

If you or someone you know is concerned about a drug-resistant infection, please telephone 07367 784114, email [email protected] or visit our Patient Support Service page.

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