21 Sep 2016

World leaders to meet at UN to discuss superbugs

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:12 pm on 21 September 2016

Scientists have been warning about the serious risk of super bugs and antibiotic resistance for decades.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The UK’s chief medical officer has repeatedly warned of an 'antibiotic apocalypse'.

And it may already be upon us with a growing number of potentially fatal infections now resistant to antibiotics.

Now world leaders are holding a summit on the problem at the United Nations this week - but is it too late?

Professor Kurt Krause from Otago University's biochemistry department is an expert in antibiotic resistance.

He says antibiotic resistance in the community only started to show quite recently.

“A decade ago the antibiotic resistance problem got more serious, a lot of bugs that before were only resistant in the hospitals were showing to be resistant in the community.

“That’s when things started to change.”

We have also tended to use antibiotics thoughtlessly. Antibiotics are unusual because the very use of them leads to more bug resistance.

“If you give poison to something that doesn’t actually kill it, it will get stronger and adapt.”   

Professor Kurt Krause says he now sees patients who have been on antibiotics for several months.

The problem is pharmaceutical companies don’t make them anymore, and with good economic reasons.

“It costs between $700 million to $1 billion to make them, then you only use them for 2 weeks at a time.”

And if a bacteria becomes resistant to the new antibiotic, its clinical use is limited.

Prof Krause says the traditional free market, capitalist approach to drug development may no longer be the answer.   


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