'Catastrophic' antibiotic threat Sparks 'Superbug' Fear in Britain

Monday, 11 Mar 2013 08:42 AM

By Megan Anderle

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Patients have developed resistances to antibiotics, which could mean those having minor surgeries risk dying from infections, Britain's top health official told Reuters Monday.

Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said that because infections are emerging and mutating, researchers must find a new antibiotic as the ones that are available are no longer effective.

Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and brought to market in the past few decades, which Davies calls a "discovery void." As bacterial infections increasingly evolve into "superbugs" resistant to existing drugs, there is an urgent need to find more, Reuters reported.

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

In one of the most dangerous cases of the threat, the superbug MRSA is estimated to kill around 19,000 people annually in the United States, and a similar number in Europe, because there is no antibiotic strong enough to tackle it.

Other viruses are spreading. There have been bases of drug-resistant tuberculosis in recent years. 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, Reuters reported.

Last year the World Health Organization said untreatable superbug strains of gonorrhea were spreading across the world.

Davies called on governments and organizations across the world like the WHO and the G8 to take the threat seriously. She also called for healthcare and pharmaceutical industries to preserve the existing arsenal of antibiotics, because the more antibiotics are prescribed, the more mutations will develop.

She suggested more incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to develop new drugs, the Telegraph reported.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a ticking time bomb not only for the UK but also for the world," she said, according to the Telegraph. “We need to work with everyone to ensure the apocalyptic scenario of widespread antimicrobial resistance does not become a reality.”

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The Department of Health said it will publish a five-year plan to address the issue, called the UK Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy.

Related story:

Do Humans Get Fat From Antibiotics Given to Livestock?

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