Swamping our defences: the rising tide of antibiotic resistance

Several health authorities have recently issued stark warnings that we are on the threshold of a post-antibiotic era (CMO, 2011; CDC, 2013; WHO, 2014). The loss of these antibiotic drugs would be a severe public health setback, taking
humanity back to a time when patients succumbed from infections now routinely treated. Antibiotic resistance also puts at risk key attainments of modern medicine, such as intensive care medicine, transplant surgery and chemotherapy for cancer, which are all reliant on antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant infections already exact a severe toll: an estimated 23,000 persons die from resistant bacterial infections in the United States, with associated treatment costs of US$20 billion (CDC, 2013). A high percentage of bacteria that cause common infections – such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and bloodstream infections – show resistance in all areas of the world (WHO, 2014).

Despite the documentation of the rapid rise of resistant bacterial strains worldwide, the full extent of the problem has arguably not been fully recognized and understood by policy makers, the health establishment, and the public. To date, this emerging global healthcare crisis has received less attention than other threats, such as HIV/AIDS. Crucially, maintaining antibiotics in the arsenal of modern medicine will depend on the actions of many actors, from parents not demanding antibiotics for their children’s routine coughs, to changes in livestock raising, and re-focussing drug development.

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