We’re Running out of Antibiotics

Doling out too many antibiotics ‘will make even scratches deadly’: WHO warns that crisis could be worse than Aids

  • Spread of deadly superbugs that evade antibiotics is happening globally
  • It’s now a major threat to public health, the World Health Organization (WHO) says
  • It could mean minor injuries and common infections become fatal
  • Deaths from cuts and grazes, diarrhea and flu will soon be common as antibiotics lose their power to fight minor infections, experts have warned.
  • The World Health Organisation says the problem has been caused by antibiotics being so widely prescribed that bacteria have begun to evolve and develop resistance.
  • It claims the crisis is worse than the Aids epidemic – which has caused 25 million deaths worldwide – and threatens to turn the clock back on modern medicine.
  • The WHO warns that the public should ‘anticipate many more deaths’ as it may become routine for children to develop lethal infections from minor grazes, while hospital operations become deadly as patients are at risk of developing infections that were previously treatable.
  • Doctors are increasingly finding that antibiotics no longer work against urinary and skin infections, tuberculosis and gonorrhoea.

The WHO is urging the public to take simple precautions, such as washing hands to prevent bacteria from spreading in the first place.

Dr Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director for health security, said: ‘Without urgent, coordinated action, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.  Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections, and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.  We should anticipate to see many more deaths. We are going to see people who have untreatable infections.’


MRSA – Patients infected with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are 64 per cent more likely to die than those with a non-resistant form of S. aureus.
People infected by resistant superbugs are also likely to stay longer in hospital and may need intensive care, pushing up costs.

C. difficile – This bacteria produces spores that are resistant to high temperatures and are very difficult to eliminate. It is spread through contaminated food and objects and can cause blood poisoning and tears in the large intestine.

E. coli – this now accounts for one in three cases of bacterial infections in the blood in the UK and a new strain is resistant to most antibiotics. It is highly contagious and could cause more than 3,000 deaths a year.

Acinetobacter Baumannii – a common bacteria which is resistant to most antibiotics and which can easily infect patients in a hospital. It can cause meningitis and is fatal in about 80 per cent of patients.

CRKP – this is a bacterium that is associated with extremely difficult to treat blood infections and meningitis. It is resistant to nearly all antibiotics and is fatal in 50 per cent of cases.

Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is estimated to kill 150,000 people globally each year.

NDM-1 – a bacteria detected in India of which some strains are resistant to all antibiotics.

In the largest study of its kind, the WHO looked at data from 114 countries on seven major types of bacteria. Experts are particularly concerned about bacteria responsible for pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections, diarrhoea and gonorrhoea.

They are also worried that antiviral medicines are becoming increasingly less effective against flu.

Dr Danilo Lo Fo Wong, a senior adviser at the WHO, said: ‘A child falling off their bike and developing a fatal infection would be a freak occurrence in the UK, but that is where we are heading.’

British experts likened the problem to the Aids epidemic of the 1980s. Professor Laura Piddock, who specialises in microbiology at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘The world needs to respond as it did to the Aids crisis.

‘We still need a better understanding of all aspects of resistance as well as new discovery, research and development of new antibiotics.’

The first antibiotic, penicillin, was developed by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1929. But their use has soared since the 1960s, and in 1998 the Government issued guidelines to doctors urging them to curb prescriptions. Nonetheless, surveys suggest they are still prescribed for 80 per cent of coughs, colds and sore throats.

The Atlantic: We’re Running out of Antibiotics

Nicole Allan. Feb 19, 2014. The Atlantic

It’s difficult to imagine a world without antibiotics. They cure diseases that killed our forebears in droves, and enable any number of medical procedures and treatments that we now take for granted.

When We Lose Antibiotics, Here’s Everything Else We’ll Lose Too

By Maryn McKenna,   2013.   Wired.com

If we really lost antibiotics to advancing drug resistance — and trust me, we’re not far off — here’s what we would lose. Not just the ability to treat infectious disease; that’s obvious.

But also: The ability to treat cancer, and to transplant organs, because doing those successfully relies on suppressing the immune system and willingly making ourselves vulnerable to infection. Any treatment that relies on a permanent port into the bloodstream — for instance, kidney dialysis. Any major open-cavity surgery, on the heart, the lungs, the abdomen. Any surgery on a part of the body that already harbors a population of bacteria: the guts, the bladder, the genitals. Implantable devices: new hips, new knees, new heart valves. Cosmetic plastic surgery. Liposuction. Tattoos.

We’d lose the ability to treat people after traumatic accidents, as major as crashing your car and as minor as your kid falling out of a tree. We’d lose the safety of modern childbirth: Before the antibiotic era, 5 women died out of every 1,000 who gave birth. One out of every nine skin infections killed. Three out of every 10 people who got pneumonia died from it.

And we’d lose, as well, a good portion of our cheap modern food supply. Most of the meat we eat in the industrialized world is raised with the routine use of antibiotics, to fatten livestock and protect them from the conditions in which the animals are raised. Without the drugs that keep livestock healthy in concentrated agriculture, we’d lose the ability to raise them that way. Either animals would sicken, or farmers would have to change their raising practices, spending more money when their margins are thin. Either way, meat — and fish and seafood, also raised with abundant antibiotics in the fish farms of Asia — would become much more expensive.

And it wouldn’t be just meat. Antibiotics are used in plant agriculture as well, especially on fruit. Right now, a drug-resistant version of the bacterial disease fire blight is attacking American apple crops. There’s currently one drug left to fight it. And when major crops are lost, the local farm economy goes too.

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