Experts Call for Fast Diagnostic Tests to Prevent Antibiotic Overuse
Lord Jim O’Neill, who chairs the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, says that doctors should use diagnostic tests for infection more often to ensure they only prescribe antibiotics when necessary. He says that effective diagnostic tests will play a key role in preventing overuse of antibiotics.
Currently, antibiotic prescriptions are based on “empirical” diagnosis – doctors use their expertise and professional judgement to decide whether they think an infection is present and whether antibiotics are necessary. However, Lord O’Neill stresses that this method of diagnosis – which has seen minimal improvement since the 1940s – needs to change.
Few new antibiotics have been developed for years, and the world’s existing arsenal is growing less effective as bacteria become more resistant. To prevent the drugs from becoming entirely ineffective, use of them needs to be significantly reduced so that bacteria are given less opportunity to become increasingly resilient.
Lord O’Neill says that more investment to make fast and accurate diagnostic tests for infection is essential, as it will ensure that antibiotics are only prescribed when absolutely necessary.
“For far too long we haven’t recognised the huge cost to society of increasing resistance when we use antibiotics that we don’t need – such as antibiotics for flu which have no effect except to increase the chances of superbugs developing,” he says. “To avoid the tragedy of 10 million people dying every year by 2050, the world needs rapid diagnostics to improve our use of antibiotics. They are essential to get patients the right treatment, cut down on the huge amount of unnecessary use, and make our drugs last longer.”
Overall, Lord O’Neill’s report calls for:
- Subsidising the cost of diagnostic tests to make their use more competitive than issuing on-demand prescriptions of antibiotics.
- Funding for developing new diagnostic tests using a share of a proposed $2billion boost for ‘blue-sky’ research into new antibiotics
- Building a long-term economic case for rapid diagnostics
“As the report from Lord O’Neill clearly sets out, rapid diagnostics have a pivotal role to play in the fight against drug resistant bacteria,” says Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England. “Without them, it is much harder for prescribers to know with any certainty whether an antibiotic will treat the infection. We need coordinated international action to help spur innovation and improve antibiotic use before it is too late.”