Antibiotic 'apocalypse' warning

Tuberculosis bacteria Drug resistance is a problem in tuberculosis

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The rise in drug resistant infections is comparable to the threat of global warming, according to the chief medical officer for England.

Prof Dame Sally Davies said bacteria were becoming resistant to current drugs and there were few antibiotics to replace them.

She told a committee of MPs that going for a routine operation could become deadly due to the threat of infection.

Experts said it was a global problem and needed much more attention.

Antibiotics have been one of the greatest success stories in medicine. However, bacteria are a rapidly adapting foe which find new ways to evade drugs.

MRSA rapidly became one of the most feared words in hospitals wards and there are growing reports of resistance in strains of E. coli, tuberculosis and gonorrhoea.

Prof Davies said: "It is clear that we might not ever see global warming, the apocalyptic scenario is that when I need a new hip in 20 years I'll die from a routine infection because we've run out of antibiotics."

She said there was only one useful antibiotic left to treat gonorrhoea.

"It is very serious, and it's very serious because we are not using our antibiotics effectively in countries.

Start Quote

We have to be aware that we aren't going to have new wonder drugs coming along because there just aren't any.”

End Quote Prof Hugh Pennington University of Aberdeen

"There is a broken market model for making new antibiotics, so it's an empty pipeline, so as they become resistant, these bugs, which they would naturally but we're breeding them in because of the way antibiotics are used, there will not be new antibiotics to come."

Possible solutions will be included in her annual report to be published in March.

Empty arsenal

The World Health Organization has warned the world is heading for a "post-antibiotic era" unless action is taken.

It paints a future in which "many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, kill unabated".

Conservative MP Stephen Metcalfe warns that research is not happening quickly enough.

Prof Hugh Pennington, a microbiologist from the University of Aberdeen, said drug resistance was "a very, very serious problem".

"We do need to pay much more attention to it. We need resources for surveillance, resources to cope with the problem and to get public information across.

But he said it was not a problem entirely of the UK's making.

"People are going abroad for operations, going abroad for, let's say, sex tourism and bringing home gonorrhoea which is a big problem in terms of antibiotic resistance - and then there's tuberculosis in many parts of the world.

Prof Pennington said the drugs companies had run out of options too as all the easy drugs had been made.

"We have to be aware that we aren't going to have new wonder drugs coming along because there just aren't any."

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