by Tim Castle

Last Updated: 2008-01-09 11:00:58 -0400 (Reuters Health)

LONDON (Reuters) – Family doctors and the public are to be reminded not to overuse antibiotics in a campaign to fight the spread of superbug infections, Health Secretary Alan Johnson said on Wednesday.

The nationwide publicity campaign, launched next month, will stress that antibiotics are ineffective against many common ailments and that indiscrimate use can boost the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections.

"The use of antibiotics have saved countless lives, but antibiotics do not work on most coughs, colds and sore throats and their unnecessary use can leave the body susceptible to gut infections like Clostridium difficile," said Johnson.

The government is under pressure to show success in reducing the level of superbug infections such as C. difficile and MRSA in NHS hospitals.

A 50 million pound ward-by-ward deep clean of hospitals in England is under way and medics have been ordered to wear short-sleeved tunics to prevent accidental spread of infection.

The antibiotics campaign comes as hospitals decide how to spend an extra 270 million pounds a year allocated in government spending plans to improve cleanliness and reduce superbug infections.

Some 45 million pounds of the additional annual funding can be spent on specialist staff.

Johnson said this money would allow every hospital trust in England to hire two infection control nurses, two isolation nurses and an antimicrobial pharmacist.

NHS bodies have been told they must keep MRSA bloodstream infections at less than half the level in 2003 and must also nationally reduce C. difficile infections by 30 percent.

Hospitals which fail to meet the C. difficile target face funding cuts and will not be able to apply for the greater financial freedoms offered by foundation trust status.

Hospitals are due to start MRSA screening of patients coming for non-emergency procedures from April, and for all emergency admissions over the next three years.

Those found with MRSA would be put into isolation units.

But the opposition Conservatives said the government had failed to invest in sufficient isolation facilities.

"There is no point in having more nurses if they don’t have the resources and facilities they need to do their work properly," said Conservative Health Spokesman Andrew Lansley.

The latest figures from the Health Protection Agency last November showed a 10 percent annual fall in MRSA bloodstream infections.

There was also a 13 percent quarterly fall in C. difficile cases in those over 65, but the HPA said it was too early to say if the corner had been turned — cases had jumped 22 percent in the previous quarter.

(Reporting by Tim Castle)

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