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Official: 'Catastrophic Threat' of Antibiotic-Resistant 'Superbugs'

UK's chief medical officer warns of deadly threat of untreatable infections in face of mutated bacteria

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Interaction of MRSA (green bacteria) with a human white cell. The bacteria shown is strain MRSA252, a leading cause of hospital-associated infections in the United States and United Kingdom. (Photo: NIAID via Flickr)

Antibiotic resistant "superbugs" pose a "catastrophic threat" as untreatable infections may prove lethal, Britain's top health official warned in a new report published Monday.

"Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don't act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can't be treated by antibiotics," cautioned Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer.

"Routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection," she added.

The pervasiveness of antibiotics—due to over-prescription, the systemic abuse of the drugs in industrial food supplies and subsequent leaching into the environment—is causing increased resistance, challenging bacteria to mutate and leaving current drugs ineffective against these new bacterial diseases.

Davis' statement comes less than a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an alarming rise in antibiotic resistant, deadly "nightmare bacteria," carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).

The Guardian reports, "there has been an alarming increase in other types of bacteria including new strains of E coli and Klebsiella, which causes pneumonia."

Reuters adds:

One of the best known superbugs, MRSA, is alone estimated to kill around 19,000 people every year in the United States - far more than HIV and AIDS - and a similar number in Europe.

And others are spreading. Cases of totally drug resistant tuberculosis have appeared in recent years and a new wave of "super superbugs" with a mutation called NDM 1, which first emerged in India, has now turned up all over the world, from Britain to New Zealand.

Last year the WHO said untreatable superbug strains of gonorrhoea were spreading across the world.

During her statement, Davies calls for international "anti-biotic stewardship," which includes increased surveillance drug-resistant superbugs, prescribing fewer antibiotics and making sure they are only prescribed when needed. She added that, with no new antibiotics in the "pipeline," there is an urgent need for research and development to fill a drug "discovery void," to counter the swift rise of these emerging, mutating infections. 

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