Antibiotic resistance – a wake-up call

19 Dec

More than 20,000 people a year are dying from drug-resistant bacteria in Europe and a similar number in America.

who header

This is not a sudden development – it has been reported year after year. As long ago as 2002,  the World Health Organisation warned that the widespread use of antimicrobials outside human medicine is of serious concern given the alarming emergence in humans of bacteria, which have acquired, through this use, resistance to antimicrobials.

Most of this is due to the overuse and misuse of antimicrobials by doctors, other health personnel and patients. However, some of the newly-emerging resistant bacteria in farm animals are transmitted to humans; mainly via meat and other food of animal origin or through direct contact.

(Note: the Heads of Medicines Agencies objection to the conflation of the terms antimicrobial & antibiotic may be read by following the link and searching on ‘definitions’)

European Antibiotic Awareness Day

EU antibiotic resistance day graphicProfessor John Watson, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England wrote on European Antibiotic Awareness Day, 18 November 2013, about preserving antibiotics for ourselves and for future generations.

“ Without tough action we will quickly approach a time when antibiotic resistance will be so widespread that patients with serious conditions will be extremely vulnerable to infection and further complications. The drugs simply won’t work”.

prof sally daviesThe Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has made this her priority and has persuaded government to put the problem on a national risk register, alongside flu pandemics. In her recent book The Drugs Don’t Work, she explains that antimicrobials such as penicillin are so widely used to combat infections that the bacteria they fight are now mutating and becoming resistant.

Around 35 million prescriptions for antibiotics are dispensed every year by GPs in England. Many people do not complete their course and this can lead to antibiotic resistance. antibiotics should only be prescribed when they are really needed – not for ordinary coughs and colds.

No large profits, no research

In an FT article Davies is quoted:“No new class of anti-bacterial has been developed since 1987 . . . partly because companies can no longer make enough money out of antimicrobials to justify investing in the research needed.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

There have also been some initiatives to change behaviour. British hospitals have recently cut reported incidences of MRSA – one drug-resistant bug – by 80% after improving hygiene on wards (for example, by insisting staff wash their hands).

  • Countries such as France have reduced antibiotic usage through a public health campaign.
  • The use of antibiotics in agriculture is being curbed in Denmark and Norway where fish-farmers have recently stopped tipping antibiotics into their tanks and are immunising the fish individually instead.
  • Last week the BBC reported that the US FDA is to curb antibiotic use in livestock.
  • A host of bureaucrats and ministers will be holding international meetings to discuss the problem in places such as Doha and Rome.

prof john watsonProfessor Watson warns: “We could all be facing a future where it is no longer possible to have an organ transplant or help our bodies through cancer treatment as the risk of fatal infection is too great.  Everyone has a role to play in preserving the antibiotics that we have now, both for ourselves and to protect future generations”.


STOP PRESS: ‘Superbugs’ found breeding in sewage plants

HOUSTON – (Dec. 16, 2013) – Tests at two wastewater treatment plants in northern China revealed antibiotic-resistant bacteria were not only escaping purification but also breeding.

Joint research by scientists from Rice, Nankai and Tianjin universities found “superbugs” carrying New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), a multidrug-resistant gene first identified in India in 2010, in wastewater disinfected by chlorination. They found significant levels of NDM-1 in the effluent released to the environment and even higher levels in dewatered sludge applied to soils.

The study, led by Rice University environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez, appeared this month in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.-

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