November 19, 2009

Hyper-Resistant Bacteria Pose Worldwide Threat

Europe has been hit with the dangerous and expensive problem of hyper-resistant bacteria because of excessive antibiotic use, according to health experts gathering in Stockholm on Wednesday.

This marked the 2nd annual European Antibiotics Awareness Day hosted by the Stockholm-based European Centre for Diseases Prevention and Control (ECDC). Experts attending the meeting said that new strain of resistance bacteria was popping up and threatening global health, reported AFP.

"Some bacteria are becoming resistant to all treatments, forcing us to use older, toxic antibiotics or combinations of drugs that we are only familiar with on paper," ECDC specialist  the issue Dominique Monnet told AFP.

The ECDC emphasized the fact that the problem is particularly severe in southern and eastern Europe where antibiotics are used more than anywhere else in the world.

"We are getting closer to the wall and we are not far from it," Monnet said.

He conducted a survey with a colleague on approximately 100 European intensive care physicians, which showed that in the last six months, more than half of them had treated at least one patient with a totally or almost totally resistant bacterial infection.

"Without effective antibiotics, modern medical treatments such as operations, transplants and intensive care will become impossible," said ECDC's director, Zsuzsanna Jakab.

It is important to have effective antibiotics especially for premature children, reanimation services and oncology departments, she said.

"The pillars of our system based on antibiotics are crumbling," Otto Cars, a professor at Uppsala University and Swedish expert on the matter said.

According to the ECDC, an estimated 25,000 deaths occur every year in the European Union because of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. That is more than half the number of deaths caused by car accidents.

Each year, the hyper-resistant bacteria racks up a $2.2 billion bill for Europe, of which $930 million is paid by hospitals.

However, Europe is not alone. The bacteria is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of patients in the U.S. as well, according to official figures.

Experts speculate that the issue could be even worse in poor countries, where antibiotics are given out more freely and can often be obtained without a prescription.

In the continent of Europe, the Mediterranean and eastern European countries are the most affected.

The hyper-resistant bacteria is not as much of a problem in the Netherlands and Nordic countries, because their rate of antibiotic consumption is lower than most other countries.

Nine European countries including Italy, Spain and Portugal had E.Coli infection rates higher than 25 percent, compared to two percent in 2003.

E.Coli is one of the most common resistant bacterium.

Experts praised awareness campaigns for their use of antibiotics put in place by governments in France, Britain, Belgium, Sweden and elsewhere.

They also noted that since 2003, infection rates with the methicillin-resistant golden staph bacteria had dropped in many European countries, which is just an example of the effects the campaign.

"There is cause to be optimistic," Monnet said, while still calling for awareness because "a bacterium can evolve in 20 to 30 minutes."

One of the greatest problems in combating hyper-resistant bacteria is that there are not many new antibiotics being developed by the profit-conscious pharmaceutical industry, warned experts.

There are currently only two promising antibiotics being developed, emphasized Swedish expert Otto Cars.


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