THE BLOG

Life Expectancy And Antibiotic Resistance

06/10/2017 11:54

The Office for National Statistics has released updated National Life Tables for 2014-2016 which explore current life expectancy in the UK and the factors which affect it. The data shows that females can expect to live to 82.9 years old and males to 79.2 years old.

How long we can expect to live is impacted by socio-economic factors and lifestyle choices. It is also influenced by the medicines and vaccines that can continue to keep us healthy.

Within the last fifty years, the discovery of innovative treatments for chronic diseases like asthma, have helped patients take control of their condition. Our communities are protected from life-threatening diseases by vaccines, and Government support of vaccination programmes. And, with the right treatment and care, people living with HIV lead full and healthy lives.

However, one of the greatest medical discoveries over the last hundred years is under threat.

Antibiotics provide a vital component in how we fight bacterial infection and in doing so, help increase our life expectancy. However, the misuse and our over-reliance on antibiotics has accelerated the rate at which bacteria develop resistance and is causing a serious concern to public health.

Without antibiotics you could be left fighting for your life after cutting your finger; and everyday surgical interventions, like a tonsillectomy, would become a game of chance. Complex surgery with a higher risk of infection could also prove fatal, including caesarean sections.

The potential return to a pre-antibiotic era may seem a long way off but the Antimicrobial Resistance Review (AMR) chaired by Lord O'Neill estimates that 10 million people could die globally, every year, due to AMR by 2050. Right now, it's currently estimated that 700,000 people every year are already dying from antibiotic resistant infections.

You may think that with such rapid progress in our understanding of human disease over the last hundred years, finding new antibiotics wouldn't be a challenge - but it is, and no new class of antibiotic has been developed in the past thirty years.

The reason for this is that bacteria have evolved over millions of years and have learnt to quickly adapt to hostile environments. This means that bacteria have several mechanisms they can use to protect themselves from antibiotics, so new medicines must overcome these mechanisms to kill the bacteria.

So, what can we do? Firstly, we need to reduce our reliance on antibiotics and make more people aware of their appropriate use - antibiotics cannot treat viral infections. Secondly, we should continue to prioritise vaccination programmes to help prevent bacterial infections in the first place and by doing so, limiting the need for antibiotic treatment.

Thirdly, we need a commercial model that recognises the life-saving value of new antibiotics and which will act as an incentive to invest in antibiotic research and development, while removing the pressure to generate sales through increasing the use of the new medicine.

Life expectancy has increased, but antibiotic resistance could become another contributing factor in how that increase is slowing. To make sure that medical advancements support life expectancy, we need to find new innovative ways of tackling bacterial infections and however difficult, continue to research and develop the next generation of antibiotics to help fight the superbugs that already exist today.

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