Antibiotic-resistant diseases pose existential threat to humanity threat, top expert says
Once again detractors of Little Nicky Machiavelli are eating humble pie. They sneered when we criticized efforts to make a vaccine for everything, they mocked when we said that compulsory medication of the whole population was not only a violation of our human rights under the Geneva Convention and also counter productive because bacteria have as strong a survival instinct as higher mammals and are better equipped to adapt rapidly to environmental threats.
And now we are sitting in the pub, eating tasty snacks, drinking excellent beer and wallowing in schadenfreude as our critics run around wearing sackcloth and ashes and crying “WOE WOE WOE.”
Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, has given MPs a stark warning that the rise in drug-resistant diseases could trigger a national emergency comparable to a catastrophic terrorist attack, pandemic flu or major coastal flooding.
Dame Sally said the threat from well known infections that through casual exposure have become resistant to commonly used antibiotics was so serious the issue should be put on the government’s national risk register of civil emergencies.
She described what she called an “apocalyptic scenario” where people going for simple operations in 20 years’ time die of routine infections “because we have run out of antibiotics”. The problem is that on top of overprescription of antibiotics by doctors, often for minor illnesses against which antibiotics are not effective (i.e. those caused by viruses) and the presence of penicillin in the food chain due to the practice of adding it to animal feeds to accelerate weight gain) have enabled bacteria to exploit the evolutionary principle of “what does not kill me makes me stronger.”
Meanwhile over medication has weakened the human immine system. Changes in modern medicine have exacerbated the problem by making patients more susceptible to infections. For example, many cancer treatments are known to weaken the immune system, and the use of catheters increases the chances of bacteria entering the bloodstream.
Davies declined to elaborate on the report, but said its publication would coincide with a government strategy to promote more responsible use of antibiotics among doctors and the clinical professions. “We need to get our act together in this country,” she told the committee.
She told the news media: “There are few public health issues of potentially greater importance for society than antibiotic resistance. It means we are at increasing risk of developing infections that cannot be treated.” indeed, only a few weeks ago news reports were informing us that a new strain of gonorrhea that was resistant to all but one type of antibiotic had emerged
The issue of drug resistance is as old as antibiotics themselves, and arises when drugs knock out susceptible infections, leaving hardier, resilient strains behind. The survivors then multiply, and over time can become unstoppable with frontline medicines. Some of the best known are superbugs such as MRSA.
“In the past, most people haven’t worried because we’ve always had new antibiotics to turn to,” said Alan Johnson, consultant clinical scientist at the Health Protection Agency. “What has changed is that the development pipeline is running dry. We don’t have new antibiotics that we can rely on in the immediate future or in the longer term.”
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