A national action plan to address the growing threat of antibiotic resistance has been announced with the suggestion restrictions on antibiotic advertising could be warranted.

Over-use and wrong use of antibiotics in humans and animals, and even appropriate use, contribute to harmful bacteria developing ways to survive treatment.

The United Nations has said antibiotic resistance poses a fundamental threat to global security and health, and some strains of infections such as pneumonia, gonorrhoea and tuberculosis are becoming harder to treat.

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman. Photo/Mark Mitchell
Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman. Photo/Mark Mitchell

Hospitals must deal with superbugs such as vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE) and extended spectrum beta lactamases (ESBLs).

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Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Food Safety Minister David Bennett today welcomed a joint report on the problem by the Ministry of Health and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which includes areas for action.

Five key objectives include improved awareness, better prevention and control measures, and improved data on antibiotic consumption in New Zealand.

"Like other countries, New Zealand has seen a rise in antibiotic-resistant infections and it is important that we develop a clear plan," Coleman said.

"A range of initiatives from everyday tasks such as hand hygiene through to education, surveillance and restrictions on prescriptions and the use of antibiotics and antimicrobials will help prevent resistance."

The Antimicrobial Resistance report, released today, notes New Zealand allowing direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicine including antibiotics "could undermine awareness-raising initiatives".

"Infection rates in New Zealand could be reduced by addressing broader health and social issues such as poverty, overcrowding, cold and damp living conditions and the presence of chronic health conditions that reduce immunity," the report states.

MPI will increase its ability to monitor antibiotic resistance in animals, and the how many antibiotics animals are consuming.

New Zealand has comparatively low rates of antimicrobial resistance, but has seen a rise in antibiotic-resistant infections due to strains of E. coli, gonorrhoea and Staphylococcus aureus.

In New Zealand, antibiotic use increases by 43 per cent in wintertime and this, plus a 49 per cent increase in consumption of antibiotics prescribed in the community in nine years, is fuelling fears about the increasing resistance of dangerous bacteria to the life-saving drugs.

Almost all Kiwi kids have been given antibiotic medications by the time they turn 5, University of Auckland research has found. Experts say doctors are prescribing inappropriately, partly driven by patient demand.

England's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has told doctors they must stop prescribing antibiotics for viral coughs and colds, to avert the "catastrophic threat" of antibiotic resistance.