October 1, 2022

The super-bug apocalypse

Antibiotic resistance is as grave a threat as terrorism or climate change, according to Britain’s Chief Medical Officer.

While we fret about another 9/11, stray meteorites and rising temperatures, catastrophe is looming elsewhere. Antibiotic resistance is as grave a threat as terrorism or climate change, according to Britain’s Chief Medical Officer. On Monday CMO Dame Sally Anne Davies warned that antibiotic resistance was a “ticking-time bomb” which could bring patient mortality rates up to pre-modern proportions.

Dr. Davies warned that in 20 years’ time even minor surgery may lead to death through untreatable infection. “We need to work with everyone to ensure the apocalyptic scenario of widespread antimicrobial resistance does not become a reality” she said. “This threat is arguably as important as climate change”.

Dr. Davies made the comments on Monday at the launch of her annual CMO report entitled Infections and the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

“We are seeing a two thirds increase some antimicrobial bacteria [such as] grand negative septicaemias” she said, “and the death rate [in patients with scepticaemia] doubles to thirty per cent.” About 5,000 patients a year in the UK are dying from bloodstream infections, half of them caused by drug-resistant organisms.

“It’s a pretty grim future, I think a lot of major surgery would be seriously threatened,” said Professor Richard James from the University of Nottingham.

Not everyone was convinced. Writing in Spiked, Dr Robin Walsh called the CMO’s speech “scaremongering”. He pointed out that there are no economic incentives for drug companies to develop enormously expensive antibiotics. “Of 150 pages, only about three look at the barriers to new antibiotics and prospective research strategies,” he said. 

Xavier Symonse
Creative commons
antibiotics
epidemics