WBB's Thought Leadership

The Antibiotic “Apocalypse”

October 9

Global burden of illness related to antibiotic resistance has reached 700,000 deaths per year, and is likely to reach 10 million per year by 2050.

Colistin is an antibiotic of last resort, increasingly used because other antibiotics are no longer effective. However, the bacterial mutation mcr-1 that confers resistance to Colistin is rapidly spreading, reaching up to 25% of patients in some areas.

WBB Take: Antibiotic resistance is an almost inevitable result of evolutionary mechanisms, but poor policies, processes, and quality control have accelerated antibiotic resistance to the point where the emergence and spread of resistant strains of bacteria is outpacing the development of new antibiotics.
The failure to introduce and enforce policies against indiscriminate prophylactic use in agriculture, and suboptimal processes in administration and utilization of antibiotics are root causes of the accelerated pace of antibiotic resistance. Increased monitoring and evaluation of antibiotic use may help in slowing the emergence and spread of resistant strains, and quality improvement methods can speed up the development of new drugs by eliminating wasted effort and errors.
Cited by Matthew Loxton

Excerpt: “Scientists attending a recent meeting of the American Society for Microbiology reported they had uncovered a highly disturbing trend. They revealed that bacteria containing a gene known as mcr-1 – which confers resistance to the antibiotic Colistin – had spread round the world at an alarming rate since its original discovery 18 months earlier. In one area of China, it was found that 25% of hospital patients now carried the gene.”
“Colistin is known as the ‘antibiotic of last resort’. In many parts of the world doctors have turned to its use because patients were no longer responding to any other antimicrobial agent. Now resistance to its use is spreading across the globe.”
“In the words of England’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies: ‘The world is facing an antibiotic apocalypse.’ Unless action is taken to halt the practices that have allowed antimicrobial resistance to spread and ways are found to develop new types of antibiotics, we could return to the days when routine operations, simple wounds or straightforward infections could pose real threats to life, she warns.”


“That terrifying prospect will be the focus of a major international conference to be held in Berlin this week. Organised by the UK government, the Wellcome Trust, the UN and several other national governments, the meeting will be attended by scientists, health officers, pharmaceutical chiefs and politicians. Its task is to try to accelerate measures to halt the spread of drug resistance, which now threatens to remove many of the major weapons currently deployed by doctors in their war against disease.”
“At present about 700,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infections. However, this global figure is growing relentlessly and could reach 10 million a year by 2050.”
“The danger, say scientists, is one of the greatest that humanity has faced in recent times. In a drug-resistant world, many aspects of modern medicine would simply become impossible. An example is provided by transplant surgery. During operations, patients’ immune systems have to be suppressed to stop them rejecting a new organ, leaving them prey to infections. So doctors use immunosuppressant cancer drugs. In future, however, these may no longer be effective.”
“‘Routine surgery, joint replacements, caesarean sections, and chemotherapy also depend on antibiotics, and will also be at risk,’ says Jonathan Pearce, head of infections and immunity at the UK Medical Research Council. ‘Common infections could kill again.’”

Source: The Guardian


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