Antibiotic resistance a "catastrophic threat": UK medical chief

LONDON Sun Mar 10, 2013 8:08pm EDT

A plate which was coated with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria called Klebsiella with a mutation called NDM 1 and then exposed to various antibiotics is seen at the Health Protection Agency in north London March 9, 2011. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

A plate which was coated with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria called Klebsiella with a mutation called NDM 1 and then exposed to various antibiotics is seen at the Health Protection Agency in north London March 9, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

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LONDON (Reuters) - Antibiotic resistance poses a catastrophic threat to medicine and could mean patients having minor surgery risk dying from infections that can no longer be treated, Britain's top health official said on Monday.

Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said global action is needed to fight antibiotic, or antimicrobial, resistance and fill a drug "discovery void" by researching and developing new medicines to treat emerging, mutating infections.

Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and brought to market in the past few decades, and it is a race against time to find more, as bacterial infections increasingly evolve into "superbugs" resistant to existing drugs.

"Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don't act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can't be treated by antibiotics," Davies told reporters as she published a report on infectious disease.

"And routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection."

One of the best known superbugs, MRSA, is alone estimated to kill around 19,000 people every year in the United States - far more than HIV and AIDS - and a similar number in Europe.

And others are spreading. Cases of totally drug resistant tuberculosis have appeared in recent years and a new wave of "super superbugs" with a mutation called NDM 1, which first emerged in India, has now turned up all over the world, from Britain to New Zealand.

Last year the WHO said untreatable superbug strains of gonorrhea were spreading across the world.

Laura Piddock, a professor of microbiology at Birmingham University and director of the campaign group Antibiotic Action, welcomed Davies' efforts to raise awareness of the problem.

"There are an increasing number of infections for which there are virtually no therapeutic options, and we desperately need new discovery, research and development," she said.

Davies called on governments and organizations across the world, including the World Health Organization and the G8, to take the threat seriously and work to encourage more innovation and investment into the development of antibiotics.

"Over the past two decades there has been a discovery void around antibiotics, meaning diseases have evolved faster than the drugs to treat them," she said.

Davies called for more cooperation between the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries to preserve the existing arsenal of antibiotics, and more focus on developing new ones.

Increasing surveillance to keep track of drug-resistant superbugs, prescribing fewer antibiotics and making sure they are only prescribed when needed, and ensuring better hygiene to keep infections to a minimum were equally important, she said.

Nigel Brown, president of the Society for General Microbiology, agreed the issues demanded urgent action and said its members would work hard to better understand infectious diseases, reduce transmission of antibiotic resistance, and help develop new antibiotics.

"The techniques of microbiology and new developments such as synthetic biology will be crucial in achieving this," he said.

(Editing by Jason Webb)

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Comments (2)
MassResident wrote:
There is no profit in antibiotics or any other drug that actually cures people since they won’t have to keep taking the pills for the rest of their lives. We can’t rely on Big Pharma to develop antibiotics or protect our health: that is up to our government. We had better redirect government funding in that direction while there is still time.

Mar 10, 2013 10:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
newshound123 wrote:
I live in Hawaii where “superbugs” are rampant. Hawaii has the highest MRSA infections in the nation, double the national average. A small hospital on the NE side of Oahu sees 2-3 human MRSA cases in just 1 ER shift. The State’s excuse is there is no $$$. There is also no reporting protocol.

In November 2011 I took my healthy dog to the Vet. He was given a drug (even though an earlier blood test showed he could not tolerate) that caused a side effect – skin lesions. The lesions got infected and spread but rather than applying the appropriate diagnostic techniques and exercising judicious antibiotic use, the Vet prescribed 4 different antibiotics. Because of this, he developed 5 Multi Resistant infections (MRSS, STREP GROUP A, PSEUDOMONAS, ESCHERICHIA COLI, KLEBSIELLA PNEUMONIAE). Five months later, he had to be put down.
Both the MRSS and STREP were found to be RESISTANT to ALL antibiotics. During the 5 months, of care, the Vet/Clinic told us that there was no need to take any extra precautions (NO gloves or gowns needed when treating the dog) and they even had us stay in the waiting room with other humans and animals AFTER he was diagnosed. The Vet actually took a culture while we were sitting in the waiting room!
Despite all 5 bacteria, they insisted he was NOT contagious. (I did try to find another vet but each one I contacted refused to see my dog and said they did not want to get involved…)

I contacted every organization (both State & private), even contacted the Dept. of Health, the Hawaii Vet Board, the State Vet and even the Federal Vet and OSHA. No one felt it was in the least bit important. There was no concern about the public’s health and the companion animal population.

Ironically, when I tried to inform the public concerning Multi Resistant infections and pets, I was threatened with a lawsuit by the Animal Clinic.

Indiscriminate antibiotic use in veterinary medicine poses significant human health implications. We need to focus on prudent use of antibiotics NOW not later.

Mar 10, 2013 11:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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