Sir Paul Callaghan liked to illustrate the incredible progress of medical science with an anecdote about Nathan Rothschild, the wealthiest man in the world, who died from an infected abscess in 1836.
This was during the preantibiotic era. Even a small scratch could mean death from infection.
Many young people, including the poet John Keats and our own Katherine Mansfield, died young from tuberculosis (TB).
Charles Darwin never recovered from the death of his 10-year-old daughter Annie, also from TB in all likelihood.
The prospect of returning to that vulnerable condition is unthinkable.
There is dawning public awareness of the world crisis with antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Our use (overuse) of antimicrobial medicines has fostered populations of resistant organisms. The medicines kill all but the resistant bugs, which then flourish.
Antibiotics are the group of medicines used to treat bacterial infection. The term antimicrobial covers the wider range of medicines for viral, fungal, parasitic and bacterial infections.
Microorganisms can become resistant through random mutations in their DNA, or by acquiring bits of DNA from other microorganisms, even dead ones. Scientists call this ‘‘horizontal gene transfer’’.
No nation is an island. These hardy organisms enjoy the benefits of international travel. They spread readily from animals to humans and vice versa. Sixty per cent of human infectious diseases worldwide come from animals, and new diseases emerge as humans encroach further into wildlife habitats. HIV, Aids and Ebola are recent examples.
Confusion over viruses and bacteria has led to patients putting pressure on doctors to dispense antibiotics when the infection was
Scientists have always known that antimicrobial resistance would develop. It’s how evolution works, writes and
viral. Antibiotics don’t work on viruses.
There are few anti-viral medicines that work either. The effective defence against viruses is vaccination, particularly in childhood. Vaccinations for the majority of viral diseases are free in New Zealand, although some parents do not take advantage of these.
More than 1.2 million New Zealanders get the flu injection, which protects against the most dominant strains in circulation. This is determined each year by the World Health Organisation.
Doctors and vets are increasingly aware of the need to
Antibiotics don’t work on viruses, says Professor Nigel French.