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If tough measures are not taken to restrict the use of antibiotics and no new ones are discovered, said Dame Sally Davies, "we will find ourselves in a health system not dissimilar to the early 19th century at some point".
While antibiotics are failing, new bacterial diseases are on the rise. Although the "superbugs" MRSA and C difficile have been reduced to low numbers in hospitals, there has been an alarming increase in other types of bacteria including new strains of E coli and Klebsiella, which causes pneumonia.
Antibiotics fail because bacteria develop resistance to the drugs over time. In the decades after the invention of penicillin it did not seem to be a problem because drug companies developed new versions. But no new classes of drugs have been discovered since 1987 and the pipeline has now dried up.