Coughs can be extremely unpleasant and leave many people in search of fast relief. But newly proposed guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England (PHE) in the UK say honey and over-the-counter medicines should always be the first port of call. In fact, the new guidelines go as far as to say antibiotics should only be prescribed by doctors on rare occasions, as they actually do little to alleviate symptoms. Most of the time, within two to three weeks, a cough will clear up on its own. The new recommendations for doctors are designed to tackle the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, which is making some infections harder to treat and leading to the emergence of drug-resistant superbugs. Patients are being advised to have hot drinks with honey and ginger, as well as cough medicines containing pelargonium, guaifenesin or dextromethorphan and wait and see if their symptoms improve before going to see their doctor. The bottom line is most coughs are caused by viruses, so antibiotics actually have little to no effect whatsoever. Dr Susan Hopkins, a deputy director at PHE, said: “Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem, and we need to take action now to reduce antibiotic use... “These new guidelines will support GPs to reduce antibiotic prescriptions and we encourage patients to take their GP's advice about self-care.” [Related reading: New Superbug-killing antibiotics found in soil]
Last month, we reported how scientists in the US had found superbug-killing antibiotics in soil. While that might have seemed an unlikely place to find something that has the potential to save countless lives, where scientists have now discovered powerful proteins capable of fighting superbugs is even stranger. Back in 2010, Australian scientists found that platypus milk contains a potent protein which is able to fight superbugs. As if Platypuses weren’t weird enough, what with their duck's beaks, venomous feet and the fact they’re mammals that lay eggs, their potentially beneficial milk only adds to their uniqueness. While it’s been years since scientists made the discovery, it’s only now that they understand why platypus milk is so good at fighting superbugs. Being monotremes, platypuses lay eggs and produce milk. However, they don’t have nipples and instead secrete milk through pores along their stomachs. It is this strange feeding system that is thought to give platypus milk its antibacterial properties, according to scientists. Dr Janet Newman, from Australia's national science agency CSIRO, said: “Platypus are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry.” While mammal milk is usually secreted via the animal’s nipples and remains sterile, platypus milk is decidedly dirtier. That’s why scientists think it contains unique antibacterial properties. Scientists hope the milk can be used to develop new antibiotics that can help fight superbugs.
Scientists in the United States have found a new family of antibiotics living in soil and early tests show they could be effective in killing several bacterial diseases that have become resistant to existing antibiotic treatments. The compounds, called malacidins, have been shown to kill the superbug MRSA, which is caused by a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to many of the traditional antibiotics used to treat such infections. Experts say the finding holds a huge amount of promise in the global fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At present, they are estimated to kill around 700,000 people every year. Discovering new antibiotics in soil isn’t actually that rare. At any one time dirt is teeming with millions of different micro-organisms which produce an abundance of potentially therapeutic compounds, including new antibiotics. A team at New York's Rockefeller University, led by Dr Sean Brady, has been busy unearthing them using a gene sequencing technique to analyse soil samples taken from all over the US. The team had a hunch that malacidins might be important when they found them in many of the soil samples they analysed. Despite the potentially ground-breaking importance of the discovery, Dr Brady stressed there’s still a long way to go, saying: "It is impossible to say when, or even if, an early stage antibiotic discovery like the malacidins will proceed to the clinic. It is a long, arduous road from the initial discovery of an antibiotic to a clinically used entity."
According to health officials at Public Health England, more patients should be advised to go home and get some rest, rather than be prescribed antibiotics. In fact, the health body says that up to a fifth of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and many conditions get better on their own. Overusing antibiotics runs the risk of bugs developing an immunity to certain drugs and developing into so-called superbugs in the future, which cannot be treated with current medicines. While antibiotics are, of course, vital for treating sepsis, pneumonia, bacterial meningitis and other severe infections, they are not essential for every illness. For example, common coughs and bronchitis can take up to three weeks to clear on their own and antibiotics only reduce that timeframe by literally a few days. Prof Paul Cosford, medical director at PHE, told the BBC: "We don't often need antibiotics for common conditions. "The majority of us will get infections from time to time and will recover because of our own immunity." He said patients should not go to their doctor "expecting an antibiotic". So don’t be surprised if your doctor isn’t quick to prescribe you antibiotics the next time you’ve got a cough or a cold. They will actually be doing you a favour in the long-run and helping to prevent the rise of drug-resistant superbugs that we all should be concerned about.
Scientists in the United States have re-engineered a crucial antibiotic in the hope that it will be able to wipe out some of the world’s most deadly superbugs. According to the PNAS journal, the new version of vancomycin is a thousand times more potent than the old drug and fights bacteria in three different ways, making it much more difficult for bugs to dodge. Despite the fact it hasn’t been tested on animals or people yet, the Scripps Research Institute team behind the drug hope it will be ready for use within five years if it passes more tests. The breakthrough is an important one as many experts have already warned we are on the verge of an “antibiotic Armageddon”, which could see some infections become untreatable with current drugs. One such hard-to-treat infection is vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE. While some antibiotics do work against it, 60-year-old drug vancomycin is now powerless. That’s one of the reasons the team from Scripps set out to boost its potency and killing ability. Prof Nigel Brown of the Microbiology Society said: "This development could be hugely important. "Vancomycin is an antibiotic of last resort against some serious infections. There has been great concern that resistance has been emerging."
The fight against superbugs could have a new ally in predatory bacteria, according to researchers in the UK. Animal studies, the results of which were published in the journal Current Biology, showed that an injection of Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus acted like a "living antibiotic" to help clear an otherwise lethal infection. The studies also showed that there would be no side effects. Experts said the "unusual" approach should not be overlooked. Bdellovibrio is a fast-swimming bacterium that finds its way inside other bacteria and eats their insides, causing it to swell in size. Once it has finished gorging, Bdellovibrio replicates and bursts out of its now dead host. The research teams from Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham tested to see what impact Bdellovibrio would have on Shigella, a common cause of food poisoning which more than a million people each year die from. Their laboratory tests showed that Bdellovibrio devastated the population of superbug Shigella 4,000-fold. Commenting on the research, Dr Serge Mostowy, from Imperial College London, said: "It is definitely a creative approach and what is special is the inability of the host to develop resistance." Scientists continue to look for alternatives to antibiotics because of the growing levels of bacteria that are becoming resistant to them and to reduce our over reliance on them.
By 2050, superbugs will kill someone every three seconds unless the world acts now. That's the stark warning to come out of a highly-influential new report from the UK. According to the British government-commissioned review, medicine risks "being cast back into the dark ages", and only billions of dollars of investment can save the world from these so-called "superbugs". The global review sets out a plan to prevent this from happening, and calls for a massive campaign to revolutionise the way in which people use antibiotics. At present, the problem is two-fold: we are not developing enough new antibiotics and we are currently misusing the ones we do have. Since mid-2014, when the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance started, more than one million people have died from infections that are resistant to drugs. What's more worrying is that the review predicts that the situation will only get worse, with 10 million people per year predicted to die from resistant infections by 2050. Jim O'Neill, the economist who led the review, said: "If we don't do something, we're heading towards a world where there will be no antibiotics available to treat people who need them." Last year, British Prime Minister David Cameron asked O'Neill to conduct a full review of the problem and suggest ways to combat it. O'Neill's final report - which you can access here - identifies 10 areas that require action from world leaders. Infections that shouldn't be treated with antibiotics include: colds, flu, most coughs and bronchitis, some sore throats, many sinus infections and many ear infections.
When all other antibiotics fail, doctors resort to colistin. This important drug has been somewhat of a safety net in medicine over the years, but that could all be about to change now that bacteria that can resist it have been found in the UK. It’s a discovery that adds further weight to the warning from scientists that we are on the cusp of a post-antibiotic era, especially as similar resistance was found in China just last month. Doctors in the UK thought they had around three years before colistin-resistant bacteria spread from China to the UK, but checks carried out by Public Health England and the Animal and Plant Health Agency have now confirmed similar resistance on three farms and even in some human infections. Public Health England analysed all of the 24,000 bacteria samples it keeps on record and found that 15 of them, including some Salmonella and E. coli samples, were resistant to colistin. In separate tests, the Animal and Plant Health Agency found that colistin-resistant bacteria on three pig farms in the UK. While the discoveries actually aren’t that surprising, especially for scientists, they do highlight how very real the threat of untreatable infections is. The biggest concern is that the resistance to colistin will now find its way into other superbugs, which could make treating them virtually impossible. Professor Alan Johnson, from Public Health England, said: "Our assessment is that the public health risk posed by this gene is currently considered very low, but is subject to ongoing review as more information becomes available. "The organisms identified can be killed by cooking your food properly and all the bacteria we identified with this gene were responsive to other antibiotics, called carbapenems. "We will monitor this closely, and will provide any further public advice as needed."