You know that killer virus they always refer to in scary movies? Turns out the threat is real, and it may come from something that used to be curable by antibiotics.
Growing numbers of drug-resistant diseases could trigger an ‘apocalyptic scenario’ comparable to a catastrophic terrorist attack, Britain’s chief medical officer warned yesterday.
Dame Sally Davies said there was risk that within 20 years people going for simple operations would die of routine infections because we may ‘run out of antibiotics’ that work.
She told MPs the threat from infections that are resistant to antibiotics was so serious that the issue should be added to the Government’s national risk register of civil emergencies.
The register was established in 2008 to advise the public and businesses on national emergencies that Britain could face in the next five years.
The highest priority risks on the latest register include a deadly flu outbreak and catastrophic terrorist attacks.
Speaking to MPs on the Commons science and technology committee, Davies said she would ask the Cabinet Office to add antibiotic resistance to the national risk register in the light of an annual report on infectious disease she will publish in March.
Hospital superbugs such as MRSA are some of the best known antibiotic-resistant diseases, but MPs were warned about infections such as gonorrhea and TB that affect the general population.
Some antibiotics have already been lost to resistance.
Penicillin is no longer effective for staphylococcal wound infections, ampicillin (a form of penicillin) is no longer used for infections of the urinary tract and ciprofloxacin (a synthetic antibiotic) is now useless in treating gonorrhoea. Many more are under threat.
New antibiotics are hard to find and to license, the Health Protection Agency has warned.
From the 1940s to the 1990s the answer was to develop new antibiotics, but this development has slowed.
New antibiotics are less profitable than treatments for chronic diseases, and much of the pharmaceutical industry now concentrates on other areas of medicine.
Dame Sally told the Commons Science and Technology Committee: ‘There are few public health issues of potentially greater importance for society than antibiotic resistance. It means we are at increasing risk of developing infections that cannot be treated – but resistance can be managed.
‘Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness at a rate that is both alarming and irreversible – similar to global warming.
‘I urge patients and prescribers to think about the drugs they are requesting and dispensing.
‘Bacteria are adapting and finding ways to survive the effects of antibiotics, ultimately becoming resistant so they no longer work. And the more you use an antibiotic, the more bacteria become resistant to it.’
Changes in modern medicine have exacerbated the problem by making patients more susceptible to infections.
For example, cancer treatments weaken the immune system, and the use of catheters increases the chances of bugs entering the bloodstream.
Hear that hypochondriacs? That means be easy on all the pills you poppin’ cuz at some point those drugs will be useless once your body builds a resistance to them.