Antibiotic-resistant bacteria with the potential to cause untreatable infections pose “a catastrophic threat” to the population, England’s chief medical officer warns in a report calling for urgent action worldwide.
The widespread overuse of antibiotics combined with a lack of new types of antibiotics leaves us in a health system that could potentially be similar to the health system in the early 19th century.
Antibiotics are failing at an alarming rate while new bacterial diseases have increased dramatically in the last few years. The well-known “Superbugs” MRSA and C difficile have been reduced to low numbers in hospitals, but there is an alarming increase in other strains of bacteria, including new strains of E coli and the pneumonia causing bacteria, Klebsiella.
These types of bacteria, which are also known collectively as gram negative are found in the gut instead of on the skin. These bacteria are highly dangerous to elderly and frail people. The big problem is that few antibiotics remain that are effective against drug-resistant strains of these bacteria.
It is estimated that as many as 5000 patients die in the UK alone of gram-negative sepsis. Sepsis is a condition where bacteria get into the blood stream, and half of these reported cases are resistant to any available drugs.
Governments and health organizations need to look at Antimicrobial resistance as a potential catastrophic threat. Without new forms of antibiotics going to the hospital for a minor procedure can become life threatening due to what used to be an ordinary infection that would have been treated with routine antibiotics. If this drug resistance isn’t addressed, routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of risk of infection.
There has been an 85% reduction in MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) which has reduced this once prevalent infection to two or three cases a year for a large hospital. But there are now 50 to 100 cases of gram-negative bacteria infection for every MRSA case, according to Professor Mike Sharland of St George’s Hospital in London, an adviser to the Department of Health on the use of antimicrobials (antibiotics and antivirals) in children.
The true cause for this lack of effective antibiotics is a twofold problem;
The first is that we are massively overusing antibiotic drugs, which effectively teaches bacteria how to resist them. There are two particularly pressing dangers: the lung disease tuberculosis and the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. Doctors are battling new drug resistant forms of these bacteria at an alarming rate.
The second is that pharmaceutical companies are not working hard to produce any new antibiotics because they are not seen as profitable. We haven’t had a new class of antibiotics released since the late Eighties, and there are very few antibiotics in the pipeline of the big pharmaceutical companies. If physicians don’t stop handing out antibiotics like candy, even a cut finger could soon be a fatal event. An organ transplant, joint replacement or just a hospital stay would be seen as a potential source of serious life threatening infection. For the last twenty years health care professionals have made warnings that drug-resistant bugs are imminent. That drug resistant Super-bug ship has arrived and only looks to increase at an alarming rate.