Everyone has heard of “Superbugs”, but the scale of the threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria is still not widely appreciated. The publication of a major report in the UK on this subject last week has global ambitions and implications.
Why is antibiotic resistance such a big issue?
If the bug-killing drugs fail to work, standard surgical operations (like bowel surgery, organ transplants and orthopaedics) and medical treatments that suppress the immune system (such as chemotherapy) will be high risk procedures, as they were before the advent of antibiotics. Additionally, common infections like pneumonia, TB, HIV and malaria will again become untreatable. Today, 700,000 human people die annually because the drugs don’t work any more. Within 30 years, if trends continue, this will go up to to 10 million deaths every year.
Is there an answer to the problem?
Global government action is needed, and last week’s report specifies what needs to be done. This includes a public awareness strategy (articles like this, over and over and over, in major news outlets), improved rewards for research projects that deliver new antibiotics, and significantly, changing the way we use antibiotics every day in humans and animals.
Vets and doctors need to change how they use antibiotics
The aim is to change how vets and doctors decide to use antibiotics. Currently, we are free to prescribe them if we feel that it’s necessary from examining the animal (or person) in front of us. The plan is to stop vets and doctors from being allowed to do this. Instead, we will be asked to carry out special tests on our patients (such as taking samples to grow the bacteria, and to test them to prove what antibiotic is needed). Such tests take several days to process, which is not helpful when an animal (or person) is dangerously ill. The plan is to develop new tests that speed this up. The public can help by not putting pressure on the vet (or doctor) to use antibiotics when the vet (or doctor) doesn’t believe that they’re needed.
Read my other blogs (and listen to my podcast) to find out more
I’ve been focussing on this subject in several different media outlets in the last week. My VetHelpDirect blog is directed more at companion animal vets, my Daily Telegraph online piece is oriented to the general public, and my podcast with Pat Kenny (below) is followed by the usual questions from listeners about their pets. If you want to know about how long cone-collars should be worn after operations, what might make a dog’s head tilt in an odd way, and why a dog might be randomly growling, have a listen.