School children could be taught about the appropriate use of antibiotics in order to tackle the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance, health officials have suggested.
Draft guidance published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said children should receive regular demonstrations of how to wash their hands correctly while soap and hand sanitisers should be widely available in schools.
It suggests the promotion of a "whole-school" approach to antimicrobial stewardship, which would also involve teaching pupils about how microbes spread and what antibiotics can and cannot do.
People across all age groups should be encouraged to self-care, such as by getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluid if they have a cold or flu rather than visiting their doctor, according to the guidance.
Spreading awareness that such common conditions do not need antibiotics is also recommended, along with advising the public that they should always take the correct dose at the right time and never use antimicrobials obtained from anywhere other than a healthcare professional or a pharmacy.
The guideline is in response to fears thatunless action is taken, resistant bugs could be claiming at least an extra 10 million lives a year by 2050 - more than the number of people who currently die from cancer.
England's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has previously warned that antimicrobial resistance is a "catastrophic threat" that could see people die of routine infections because they can no longer be treated by antibiotics.
Last month Nice published guidance aimed at health professionals, estimating that as many as 10 million prescriptions for antibiotics are being dished out unnecessarily every year.
The latest guidance is for the public, with a particular focus on people who regularly take a lot of antibiotics, such as young children and older people, and those who misuse antibiotics.
Young people aged 16 to 24 and adults aged over 65 are the groups that use the most antibiotics, while those between 16 and 24 misuse antibiotics more than any other age group.
Antimicrobial resistance is greatest in older age groups, research has found.
The advice also highlights that GPs or A&E should not be the first point of call for treatment and information for self-limiting conditions. Instead, people should be encouraged to use pharmacies and other reliable health resources such as NHS Choices.
Antibiotics have been the mainstay of treating infections for more than 60 years but although a new infectious disease has been discovered nearly every year over the past 30 years, very few new antibiotics have been developed. This means existing antibiotics are used to treat an ever greater variety of infections and infectious diseases.
Nice said infectious diseases are a major cause of death in the very young, very old and people with chronic diseases, and accounted for around 3.4 million (8%) of hospital bed days in England in 2010/11.
In the UK, a fifth (21%) of all days lost at work (approximately 27 million days) were due to infectious diseases such as coughs, colds and flu.
Deputy chief executive and health and social care director at Nice, Professor Gillian Leng, said: "The over-use of antibiotics in the last 30 years has led to microbial resistance, and with so few new antibiotics being developed, this could result in once-treatable infections becoming fatal in years to come.
"This new draft guideline focuses on interventions to help change people's behaviour, and reduce antimicrobial resistance. It also aims to increase awareness, to both the public and healthcare professionals, of the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, and the risks this could involve."
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Schools are free to teach about the use of antibiotics and other personal health issues if they consider it to be in their pupils' interests.
"Teachers should use their professional judgment to address any specific issues that meet the needs of their pupils within the existing curriculum."