An­tibi­otic re­sis­tant su­per­bugs 'will kill 90,000 Bri­tons by 2050'

The Guardian Australia - - Science - Hannah Devlin Sci­ence correspondent

More than 90,000 peo­ple in Bri­tain will die over the next three decades un­less ac­tion is taken to halt the rise in an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant su­per­bug in­fec­tions, a re­port has warned.

The Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (OECD) es­ti­mates re­sis­tant in­fec­tions could kill about 2.4 mil­lion peo­ple in Europe, North Amer­ica and Aus­tralia by 2050 un­less more is done to tackle the prob­lem, which it de­scribes as “one of the big­gest threats to mod­ern medicine”.

This in­cludes about 1.3 mil­lion deaths in Europe and 90,000 in Bri­tain.

Sim­ple hy­giene mea­sures such as hand wash­ing and more con­ser­va­tive pre­scrib­ing of an­tibi­otics could pre­vent some of the deaths, the au­thors said. The re­port said en­hanced rapid test­ing to en­sure pa­tients are given ap­pro­pri­ate drugs could also help over­come the loom­ing cri­sis.

There are grow­ing con­cerns about the in­creas­ing num­ber of in­fec­tions that have evolved re­sis­tance to first­line drugs, leav­ing a dwin­dling num­ber of treat­ment op­tions avail­able. The prob­lem of re­sis­tance is grow­ing even more rapidly in low- and mid­dlein­come coun­tries.

The re­port warns that south­ern Europe risks be­ing par­tic­u­larly af­fected, with Italy, Greece and Por­tu­gal fore­cast to top the list of OECD coun­tries with the high­est mor­tal­ity rates from an­timi­cro­bial re­sis­tance.

Re­sis­tance to se­cond- and third-line an­tibi­otics – used as backup to treat in­fec­tions when com­mon an­tibi­otics do not work – is ex­pected to in­crease over the com­ing decades, it says.

The re­port comes after health of­fi­cials in Eng­land launched a cam­paign to try to pre­vent peo­ple from ask­ing for the drugs when they do not need them.

Pub­lic Health Eng­land said an­tibi­otics were es­sen­tial for treat­ing se­ri­ous bac­te­rial in­fec­tions but the drugs were fre­quently be­ing pre­scribed for coughs, sore throats and ear­ache, which usu­ally im­prove with­out the med­i­ca­tion.

The health body’s lat­est cam­paign re­minds peo­ple that if they are feel­ing un­well “an­tibi­otics aren’t al­ways needed”.

Tim Jinks, head of the Well­come Trust’s drug-re­sis­tant in­fec­tions pri­or­ity pro­gramme, said: “This new OECD re­port of­fers im­por­tant in­sight into how sim­ple, cost-ef­fec­tive sur­veil­lance, pre­ven­tion and con­trol meth­ods could save lives glob­ally.

“Drug-re­sis­tant su­per­bugs are on the rise world­wide and rep­re­sent a fun­da­men­tal threat to global health and de­vel­op­ment. This re­port pro­vides yet fur­ther ev­i­dence that in­vest­ing to tackle the prob­lem now will save lives and de­liver big pay­offs in the fu­ture.”

A short-term in­vest­ment to tackle su­per­bugs would save lives and money, the OECD said, es­ti­mat­ing that halt­ing the rise of re­sis­tant in­fec­tions would cost just $2 (£1.50) per per­son a year.

A mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist ex­am­in­ing MRSA bac­te­ria. Pho­to­graph: Rodolfo Paru­lan Jr/Getty Images

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