Children and young people should be taught simple hygiene measures to help curb the spread of infections, says NICE

NICE – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – has published final guidance recommending all children and young people, from pre-school to university age, be taught the importance of hand washing and managing some common infections themselves.

These recommendations aim to educate the general public in how they can contribute in the battle against antimicrobial resistance.

The term 'antimicrobial resistance' is used to reflect that diseases caused by viruses and fungi become resistant to medicines in a similar way bacteria do to antibiotics.

With few new drugs being developed one of the key ways to combat antimicrobial resistance is to prescribe and use existing medicines carefully to ensure they remain effective for as long as possible.

Good hygiene can reduce the spread of disease and the reliance on medicines.

Preventing the spread of infections

The guideline recommends children in nurseries and young people living away from home be taught when and how to wash and dry their hands, for example after going to the toilet and before preparing food.

These simple hygiene steps will help to prevent the spread of infections and therefore reduce the need for antimicrobials for treatment.

“We all have a part to play in this battle against antimicrobial resistance to ensure that antimicrobial treatments do not become obsolete in the future. To stop the spread of infections and reduce resistance, good hand, respiratory and food hygiene and appropriate antimicrobial use are vital."

Paul Cosford, Medical Director Public Health England

NICE highlights the benefits in using evidence-based teaching tools to help children and young people understand how infections spread, and how antimicrobial resistance develops.

One of the teaching tools endorsed by NICE is 'e-Bug', which was produced by Public Health England (PHE) that co-badged the guidance.

e-Bug is an educational software package developed with students, teachers and public health professionals. Its interactive games and information are tailored to either junior, senior or young adult level.

e-Bug in action...

Young people living away from home for the first time, such as when starting University, should be given information on how to care for themselves when they get sick, the guideline says.

NICE says that it is important for young people to have the information they need to recognise when their infection can be managed safely at home and, if not, where to seek help.

They should not be given antimicrobials for an infection that will resolve itself over time, for example a common cold, or simple cough, the guideline says.

Taking antimicrobials when they cannot fight an infection is known to contribute to the development of drug resistance. The guideline says antimicrobial medicines should only be used when necessary.

Protecting our antimicrobials

Antimicrobial resistance develops when the medicines are used inappropriately.

Having better awareness of when an antimicrobial medicine will help treat an illness and when it will not, will reduce the number of people asking for these medicines inappropriately. And this will help some doctors who feel pressured to prescribe them when they are not needed.

People who are unsure whether they need antimicrobials or not should be directed to 111, the NHS Choices website or local pharmacies, the NICE guidance says.

"There are already common infections that are resistant to antimicrobials. Without sustained changes to the way we manage infections and protect these medicines, some routine medical procedures will become fatal.

“Education is key to this issue, and that’s why we’ve made recommendations for a whole range of ages.”

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at NICE
What can you do to help reduce antimicrobial resistance?

Global estimates suggest that every year more than 700,000 people die from drug-resistant strains of common bacterial and viral infections, HIV, TB and malaria.

If antimicrobial resistance continues to increase, this number could rise to 10 million a year by 2050, with people dying from common infections, or from routine operations due to the risk of infection.

This guidance published by NICE aims to support NHS organisations, local authorities, and health and social care professionals to provide accurate information to people in their care.

The recommendations include telling patients that they should not buy prescription-only antimicrobials online, share them with others or use them as preventive measure against becoming ill on holiday.

NICE also says that any leftover antimicrobial medicine should not be kept for use at another time or disposed of by flushing it down the sink or toilet. Medicines can be taken to pharmacies where they can be disposed of safely.

“If antimicrobial resistance continues to increase, the consequences will be disastrous. It isn’t a problem we can tackle in isolation.

“This is why our final guideline emphasises the need for a multi-pronged approach to tackling antimicrobial resistance. We must work together to fight this threat.”

Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for guidelines at NICE

"We need to address the growing problem of drug-resistant infections as the global medicine cabinet is becoming increasingly bare.

"Preventing infections in the first place is key, and so is education on how to use antibiotics appropriately. This guidance provides important information on how we can keep these important medicines working."

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer