July 14, 2013
Antibiotic Overuse Could Lead To Serious Threat From Superbugs
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Australia's Office of Chief Scientists released a report on Friday that claims the misuse and overuse of antibiotics could soon send the world back to a nineteenth century era where typical diseases and infections could pose a serious threat.According to the report, many bacterium have become immune to the drugs that are often prescribed to treat those with ear infections, sore throats and more. These claims echo other recent reports which have also predicted an acceleration of antibiotic immunity in bacterium. The chief medical officer for England claimed in March that antibiotic resistant "superbugs" are becoming a global health threat.
Other health officials are now praising the Office of Chief Scientists' warning, saying this adds further proof the growing ineffectiveness of antibiotics is quickly becoming a global problem.
"Some bacteria are now so resistant that they are virtually untreatable with any of the currently available drugs," reads the report written by Simon Prasad and Phillippa Smith.
"If we do not take action to address this threat, humankind will be on the brink of a "post-antibiotics era", where untreatable and fatal infections become increasingly common," they wrote.
The report points to two main reasons for the collapse of antibiotics.
First, it claims these drugs are being both misused and overused in all areas, such as agriculture, animal husbandry and human health applications. Several bugs have already become resistant to the drugs, such as golden staph (Staphylococcus aureus), which is expected to grow in Australia and the rest of the world. A drug-resistant variety of tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea is also seen as a growing risk to Australia's public health.
"In a frightening irony, several medical interventions will increase our vulnerability to infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria," reads the report. "Among these are: cancer chemotherapy, organ transplantation, artificial devices (e.g. catheters, heart valves) and implants (e.g. hip joints)."
Secondly, the report claims this growing resistance to the medication has caused drug companies to abandon their research into this field or cut back their commitments to antibiotic development. It is suggested these companies no longer find it financially viable to continue working with these medications, saying, "Whilst some cancer medicines are sold for $20,000 a course, we still expect to pay $20 for a course of antibiotics."
"Only one antibiotic that works in a novel way has been discovered and developed for use in humans in the last 50 years," they add.
The chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia said it was "brilliant" that the Chief Scientists have called out this problem and brought more attention to it.
"There have been warnings from scientists and those in the health fraternity for a number of years, so to have the gravitas of the chief scientist behind this should be a wake-up call for Australia," said Michael Moore in a statement to The Guardian.
A report last month offers some hope for old antibiotics and public health, however. In a paper published by scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University in the journal Science Translational Medicine, it is suggested a low dose of silver could weaken these immune bacteria. Once they become weakened, today's antibiotics could be able to effectively kill these bugs.