Antibiotic Apocalypse

Antibiotic Apocalypse – 14th November, 2016

Scientists are becoming increasingly worried about the threat of an antibiotic Armageddon but are Kiwis in the dark? As a week-long awareness campaign InfectedNZ kicks off, science reporter Jamie Morton talks to two leading Kiwi microbiologists.

It’s dubbed the “antibiotic apocalypse”, the potential point in the not-too-distant future where the bugs beat our drugs and millions die.

Across the world, scientists and clinicians are becoming increasingly worried about bacteria and other pathogens, which are evolving to resist drugs at a rate outpacing the development of new medicines.

This year health researchers were dismayed to learn of the first case of a person infected with a bacteria resistant to colistin, an old antibiotic with nasty side effects that is now used only as a last resort.

Already, an estimated 700,000-plus people worldwide die each year due to drug-resistant infections.

But the effect could be much more devastating when even today’s easily-treatable diseases are found harder to combat.

In a world without antibiotics, previously treatable infections will once again become deadly, or may require amputation to stop them in their tracks.

Because antibiotics are also used to prevent infection in vulnerable people, it will also become life-threateningly risky to perform routine operations such as caesarean sections and joint replacements, and treatments like chemotherapy for cancer.

In a series of recent reports commissioned by former British Prime Minister David Cameron, economist Sir Jim O’Neill estimated that without urgent action, antimicrobial resistance would kill 10 million people a year by 2050, more than will die from cancer.

O’Neill also put an economic cost on the catastrophe, estimating that inaction would cost the world’s economy $138 trillion by 2050.

Obviously, the World Health Organisation (WHO) characterises the problem as one of the biggest threats to global health today.

Its director-general, Dr Margaret Chan, called it the “end of modern medicine as we know it”.

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