Intended for healthcare professionals


Antibiotic resistance: an increasing problem?

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 25 April 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1255

It always has been, but there are things we can do

  1. C A Hart (, Professor of medical microbiology
  1. University of Liverpool, PO Box 147, Liverpool L69 3GA. CAH is a member of the Advisory Committee on Microbiological Safety of Food: Antibiotic Resistance.

    News p 1261.

    Although the “antibiotic era” dates from Fleming's discovery of the effects of the fungus Penicillium notatum in 1928, not until 1940 could penicillin be produced in a sufficiently pure form to treat humans.1 Ominously, a β lactamase (penicillinase) capable of inactivating penicillin was described in the previous year. Over the next few decades the production of new classes of antibiotics (derived from living organisms) and antimicrobials (synthesised chemicals) increased exponentially, and the burden of infection was lifted, especially in developed countries. In recent years concern has increased that the antibiotic era might be coming to an end—firstly, because the rate of production of new agents has diminished greatly and, secondly, because viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and parasites are showing great ingenuity in devising mechanisms for circumventing the killing activity of such agents.

    So great is the concern that several committees both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are examining different aspects of the problem. This week the House of Lords' Select Committee on Science and Technology has presented its conclusions (p 1261). 2 3 Its chairman, Lord Soulsby, an eminent veterinarian from Cambridge, said that the inquiry was an alarming experience …

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