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Singing pills warn of antibiotic resistance

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

23rd October 2017 – A TV advert featuring antibiotic pills singing and dancing will spearhead a move by health authorities aimed at countering the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

The 8-week campaign by Public Health England (PHE) warns people that taking antibiotics unnecessarily puts them at risk of a more severe or longer infection.

It urges them to take their doctor's advice on whether antibiotics are needed for their condition.

Antibiotic misuse for coughs and colds

Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections including meningitis, pneumonia and blood poisoning. However, they are also wrongly used to treat illnesses such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves.

This misuse of antibiotics means that bacteria can become resistant to the drugs so that they no longer work.

'Post-antibiotic apocalypse' warning

Earlier this month, Professor Dame Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer, warned that resistance could soon make routine operations risky and lead to a "post-antibiotic apocalypse" and "the end of modern medicine"..

An estimated 5,000 deaths at least are caused every year in England because antibiotics no longer work for some infections, according to PHE. A 2016 review on antimicrobial resistance warned that
in just over 30 years antibiotic resistance will kill more people than the current toll for cancer and diabetes combined.

Already, 4 in 10 patients with an E.coli bloodstream infection in England cannot be treated with the most commonly used antibiotic in hospitals, according to PHE.

PHE's campaign coincides with the World Health Organisation's World Antibiotic Awareness Week in mid-November.

'Don't ever think we'll cure all of your ills'


The central feature is a £2 million animation created by M&C Saatchi. The TV ad shows a group of red and white animated pills singing about the dangers of treating minor complaints with antibiotics.

"Antibiotics – we're wonderful pills

But don't ever think we'll cure all of your ills",

they sing, against a backdrop that says 'Antibiotics don't work for everything'.

It is reported that the pills themselves were chosen to present the message rather than healthcare professionals in order to avoid people thinking that reducing antibiotic use was just a cost-cutting measure.

PHE marketing director Sheila Mitchell told PR Week that they wanted "a consumer-friendly TV advert that uses the medium of song to make the point in an engaging and memorable way, with the hope that the catchy song gets the message stuck in people's heads".

That message will be backed up by advertising near pharmacies, advertising on radio, in print and on social media will target older men and women, and parents.

Modern medicine under threat

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at PHE, comments in a statement: "Antibiotic resistance is not a distant threat, but is in fact one of the most dangerous global crises facing the modern world today.

"Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them puts you and your family at risk of developing infections which in turn cannot be easily treated with antibiotics.

"Without urgent action from all of us, common infections, minor injuries and routine operations will become much riskier."

The campaign is being fronted by Dr Chris Van Tulleken, an infectious disease doctor well known for presenting the BAFTA winning children's health show 'Operation Ouch' with his twin brother, who is also a doctor.

"As GPs, we are often asked to prescribe antibiotics by patients who think that they will cure all their ills," he says. "The reality is that antibiotics are not always needed so you shouldn’t expect to be prescribed them by your doctor or nurse.

"Always take their advice and remember that your pharmacist can recommend medicines to help with your symptoms or pain."

Reviewed on October 23, 2017

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