Surge in superbugs: Official figures reveal antibiotic resistant infections up 9% on the year before

A surge in superbugs has seen antibiotic resistant infections soar by nine per cent in one year, official figures have revealed.

In 2018, there were 61,000 cases – 165 a day – in England, compared to 56,000 in 2017, a report by Public Health England shows.

Almost 3,000 people were killed by superbugs in 2018, up from 2,450 in 2017, estimates suggest. 

Serious drug-resistant bloodstream infections, which can be caused by UTIs or skin infections, for example, have risen by a third in five years. 

Superbugs are bacteria which can no longer be treated with common antibiotics and are potentially life-threatening. 

Despite statistics showing antibiotics are being doled out less than they used to, PHE said the threat of resistance continues to grow.

Experts have urged the public to only take antibiotics when necessary amid a ‘worrying’ trend that is jeopardising medicine. 

A surge in superbugs has seen antibiotic resistant infections soar by nine per cent in one year, official figures have revealed. Serious bloodstream infections – most commonly caused by E. coli (illustration pictured) have risen by a third in five years

Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections that threaten life, such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. 

However, they are frequently being used to treat less serious illnesses such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves. 

The bacteria thrive inside the body and may not work when they are really needed, and in some cases, there is no alternative. 

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is deemed to be one of the biggest threats facing humanity, killing around 700,000 a year. 

It’s fuelled by over-use of antibiotics in healthcare and farming, patients not finishing the entire antibiotic course, and poor infection control and hygiene. 

Dr Susan Hopkins, AMR lead at PHE said: ‘It’s worrying that more infections are becoming resistant to these life-saving medicines and we must act now to preserve antibiotics for when we really need them.


Antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial infections that are unlikely to clear up on their own, may infect others, or pose serious risks. 

They are needed most when someone gets sepsis, pneumonia, a urinary tract infections (UTI), sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea or meningococcal meningitis.

Antibiotics are frequently being used to treat illnesses such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves. 

Taking antibiotics encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant. That means that antibiotics may not work when you really need them.  

Research in 2017 shows that 38 per cent of people still expect an antibiotic from a doctor when they visit with a cough, flu or a throat, ear, sinus or chest infection, according to PHE.   

‘Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them is not a harmless act – it can have grave consequences for you and your family’s health, now and in the future.’

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘Antibiotics are one of the most powerful tools we have against infection.

‘Resistance to these drugs therefore places much of modern medicine in jeopardy. A key component of our response to this problem is to ensure people use antibiotics appropriately.

‘The decrease in consumption of antibiotics is good news but the rise in resistant infections shows the threat is increasing and so there is more to be done.’ 

PHE’s latest English Surveillance Programme for Antimicrobial Utilisation and Resistance (ESPAUR) report was published today. 

The rate of bloodstream infection (BSI) – which can cause septicemia – by the top superbugs rose by 22 per cent between 2014 and 2018.  

The total number of BSIs for one key pathogen in 2018 was 81,000 compared with 65,000 in 2014.

E. coli was the most common cause, and babies under the age of one and over 65-year-olds are most at risk.

There are also disparities across the country – the North East are burdened by AMR more than London, while the South East has higher levels of BSIs. 

PHE praised the 17 per cent drop in the number of antibiotic prescriptions issued in GP surgeries since 2014. Consumption has dropped by nine per cent.

And it said there is no evidence that more people are being admitted to hospital with serious infections as a direct result of fewer prescriptions from GPs. 

The public are being urged to heed the advice of their doctor, pharmacist or nurse as part of its Keep Antibiotics Working campaign.

Dr Hopkins said: ‘We have seen positive steps taken to reduce antibiotic use without affecting people’s recovery when they are unwell, and GPs should be congratulated in their ongoing work to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.’ 

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs said: ‘GPs are already doing a good job at reducing antibiotics prescribing, but it can’t be our responsibility alone.

‘We need the public to understand that antibiotics are neither a cure nor an appropriate treatment for many minor self-limiting conditions and viral infections, and if a GP advises against antibiotics, they are doing their best for the patient’s own good, and that of wider society.’

Professor Whitty said: ‘Antibiotic resistance is not just a matter for clinicians – the public also have a crucial role to play in helping to preserve these vital medicines.


Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs. 

The World Health Organization has previously warned if nothing is done the world was headed for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.

It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate answers to the growing crisis.

Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics, or they are given out unnecessarily. 

Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism.

Figures estimate that superbugs will kill ten million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.

Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world. 

Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.

In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.

In September, the World Health Organisation warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.

Without antibiotics, caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would also become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.