Professor Dame Sally Davies, the United Kingdom’s chief medical officer, says antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat, and routine operations could become deadly in just 20 years unless new antibiotic drugs are discovered.
An Australian expert agrees with the UK’s top medico statement that resistance to antibiotics is as great a risk to public safety as terrorism. Infectious Disease expert, Professor Peter Collignon from the Australian National University agreed with Dame Davies statement, saying the threat posed by antibiotics resistance is very real.
“It is just as important as terrorism and I actually think more important,” Professor Collignon said. “The reality is common things we take for granted – like bowel surgery, like treating people with leukaemia – if we don’t have antibiotics that work we can no longer do those.”
Dame Sally says new drugs are needed to stop the “ticking time bomb”, as bacterial infections increasingly evolve into “superbugs” resistant to existing drugs ::::
In the second part of her annual report – the stats and juicy bits were published in November – Professor Dame Sally Davies said the problem of microbes becoming increasingly resistant to the most powerful drugs should be ranked alongside terrorism and climate change on the list of critical risks to the nation.
The growing ineffectiveness of many antibiotics, and pharmicutical companies unwillingness to fund new antibiotics is resulting in a “discovery void” few new compounds are being developed to take the place of ineffective treatments. Dame Sally has called for a string of actions to tackle the threat, which is likely to include tighter restrictions on how GPs prescribe antibiotics for their patients.
Dame Davies declared that in 20 years’ time even minor surgery may lead to death through untreatable infection, she warns: “This is a growing problem, and if we don’t get it right, we will find ourselves in a health system not dissimilar from the early 19th century.”
“There is a need for politicians in the UK to prioritise antimicrobial resistance as a major area of concern, including on the national risk register and pushing for action internationally as well as in local healthcare services.” Dame Davies says in her report. “Antimicrobial resistance is a ticking time-bomb not only for the UK but also for the world. We need to work with everyone to ensure the apocalyptic scenario of widespread antimicrobial resistance does not become a reality. This threat is arguably as important as climate change.”
Professor Collignon says that for a lot of people in the world, the “bomb has already exploded”.
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 the bug has taken a similar toll in Europe.
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 World Health Organisation said untreatable superbug strains of gonorrhoea were spreading across the world.
Professor Collignon says tens of thousands of people die in Australia every year from bacterial infections and that number is rising. However despite this, he says there are no new antibiotics on the horizon. Professor Collignon says an international approach is required.
“There is just not the money for the pharmaceutical companies to make them like they were 30 or 40 years ago,” Professor Collignon said.”We need major countries cooperating together to try and work out how we can give appropriate inducements to developers and companies to produce these drugs.”
UPDATE! March 18 2013: Just days after this post, and Dame Davies warning, concerns about antibiotic-resistant superbugs emerging in Australia have reignited after it was revealed a major Melbourne hospital has been contaminated with one.
Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, has been described by members of the Australasian Society of Infectious Diseases – ASID – as “the new plague”.
Dandenong Hospital, in Melbourne’s south-east, has reported 10 cases of CRE in as many years, according to the Medical Journal of Australia. No-one has died and the hospital now says it has the contamination under control.
The hospital’s head of infectious diseases, Dr Rhonda Stuart, says the outbreak was traced to sinks in the intensive care unit and high-pressure steam cleaning is being used to control the organism.
“I think it’s a stressful time for health professional around Australia,” Dr Stuart said.
ASID head David Looke says the contamination is an increasing problem.
“I’m not surprised [about the contamination] because these incidences occur in many hospitals around the country, on and off,” Mr Looke said. “And I think that what’s new is this particular bug is so resistant to antibiotics that it was worth reporting. We’ve been seeing other gram-negatives sometimes contaminate the environments or patients in intensive care units. My brief reading of this report, it looks like they’ve investigated and been lucky to the find the likely source and they’ve worked out a way of dealing with it.”
Associate Professor Looke says the bug is resistant to the class of antibiotics that are the last line of treatment.
“We’re very vulnerable. We know that these particular organisms have become prevalent in many of the countries around us,” Mr Looke said. “We don’t like the idea of those bugs spreading around and causing infections because they’re virtually impossible to treat.”
Associate Professor Looke says outbreaks are no longer confined to hospitals.
What is CRE?
- Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae is a family of germs with high levels of resistance to antibiotics.
- E. coli is an example of Enterobacteriaceae, a normal part of human gut bacteria which can become carbapenem-resistant.
- Types of CRE are KPC (Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase) and NDM (New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase).
- KPC and NDM are enzymes that break down carbapenems and make them ineffective.
- Infections mostly occur among patients being treated for other conditions.
- Patients who require ventilators or catheters and patients on long courses of certain antibiotics are most at risk.
- Death occurs in up to 50 per cent of infected patients.
source: uk department of health
source: the independant