Labellling blood samples for testing

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The UK faces challenges from several emerging and re-emerging infections

Although less threatened by infectious disease than many developing countries, the UK does face significant challenges.

UK cases of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and antibiotic-resistant Clostridium difficile have fallen in recent years, probably due to increased vigilance in hospitals. But antimicrobial resistance more generally poses a threat, as other microbes are beginning to beat the best available treatments.

Some strains of the gut bacteria Escherichia coli and Salmonella are becoming resistant to newer antibiotics, and gonorrhoea treatment with cephalosporins represents a last stand against the disease – there are no other classes of antibiotic that still work. Low-level resistance to one cephalosporin, cefixime, already exists in the UK.

A nasty strain of E. coli – E. coli O157:H7 – has also become more common. Control of this strain focuses on food safety (the bacterium is found mainly in the intestines of cattle) and good hygiene.

Tuberculosis (TB) has been making a gradual comeback. According to one report, around 8,000 new cases arise in the UK each year. The disease is strongly linked to poverty and is a major problem in deprived urban areas. The number of cases in London rose by 50 per cent between 1999 and 2009. In 2013 nearly half of UK cases were in unemployed people.

Until 2005 HIV diagnoses were increasing year on year in the UK. More than 7,500 new cases were diagnosed in 2005, but the number had declined to 6,000 by 2013. For more than a decade heterosexual sex was the primary route by which the virus spread, but sex between men has now become the most common route of transmission again.

Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also increasing. In 2012 the Health Protection Agency (now Public Health England) reported that syphilis infections had rapidly risen by 10 per cent in the previous year – and that gonorrhoea infections (see above) had risen by 25 per cent. Chlamydia remains one of the most common STIs, mostly affecting under-25s.

Lead image:

Labellling blood samples for testing.

Neeta Lind/Flickr CC BY


Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Epidemics’ in September 2007 and reviewed and updated in January 2015.

Microbiology, Health, infection and disease, Medicine, Immunology
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development