Mar 18, 2013

Superbug experts warn of 'red plague'

By Sue Dunlevy
Infectious diseases physician Dr Wendy Munckhof holds a blood sugar dish of MRSA strain at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. Munchkhof is leading the study of a new antibiotic-resistant superbug, a strain of golden staph. Picture: David Sproule Source: The Australian

THE world is on the verge of a new plague of antibiotic resistant infections with even common urinary tract infections now resistant to conventional treatment, Australia's superbug experts warn.
An increasing number of people are requiring powerful intravenous antibiotics to beat urinary tract infections that previously could be treated simply with a pill.

And unless the government regulates antibiotic use medical advances like organ transplants, joint replacements and critical care medicine will be under threat from rampant infections.

Doctors are warning these superbugs could soon represent the same threat as a plague like the Black Death except in this case it is being called the "red plague'' because antibiotic bugs stain red under a microscope.

Professor David Looke, the president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, says common E. coli infections that cause 80 per cent of urinary tract infections are now resistant to multiple antibiotics.
In an editorial in today's Medical Journal of Australia he says the proportion of E. coli bugs in Australia that were multi-drug resistant rose from 4.5 per cent in 2008 to 7.2 per cent in 2010.

Most people thought antibiotic resistant bugs were caught in a hospital setting but now they were being acquired in the community, he said.

Up to 30 per cent of the staphylococcus bacteria that cause common boil infections acquired in the community were now also resistant to penicillin, he said.

Many forms of sexually acquired gonorrhea were also resistant to most antibiotics.
The overuse of antibiotics in humans and in animals and farming practices was driving the growing resistance to treatments, he said.

In India 100-200 million people were thought to harbour antibiotic resistant bacteria.In Asia antibiotics were injected into eggs, used in prawn and chicken farms.

Foreign travel and global food production was bringing these threats to our own shores, he said.

Compounding the problem is the fact that pharmaceutical companies have all but stopped developing new antibiotics that might beat superbug infections.

There was little money to be made in treatments that needed to be used for only a week or not used except as a last resort when all other treatments had failed, he said.

Infectious diseases experts have told the MJA our government must set up a new regulatory body that would have control of the use of antibiotics in humans, animals and farming.

It should be able to mandate what doses of antibiotics could be sued for what purposes and ban their use from agriculture in a bid to cut down growing resistance.

Government must also work with the pharmaceutical industry to encourage them to research new antibiotics, he said.

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