Experts Warn of Infection Death Sentences if Careless Prescriptions Continue

by Elliot Adams
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Antibiotics which kill dangerous bacteria have no effect on flu-causing viruses; Image courtesy of ECDC

The European Centre of Disease prevention and Control (ECDC), which is focused on controlling infectious diseases like swine flu in Europe, is to write this week to all practicing GPs, warning them of the dangers of routinely prescribing antibiotics for coughs and colds because their overuse is contributing to the spread of hospital bugs and putting vital treatments under threat.

This is not a new problem, the prescription of the drugs, which are not necessary in most cases, has long fuelled the rising number of antibiotic resistant infections. But experts at the ECDC centre say that modern medicine is reaching a point when it will no longer be able to function because antibiotics are fast becoming powerless to fight life-threatening hospital infections.

The process of producing new antibiotics is too slow-paced to allow for the current growth in resistance; an ECDC spokesman said that “If we continue to consume antibiotics at the current rate, Europe may face a return to the pre-antibiotic era where a common bacterial infection could be a death sentence”

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The ECDC is leading the pressure to stop improper antibiotic use. Left to right: Z. Jakab, Director of ECDC, Professor Giesecke and Dr. Coulombier of ECDC; Image courtesy of ECDC

Dominic Monnet, from the ECDC’s Scientific Advice unit warned that this would mean a halt to treatments with a high-infection risk like organ transplants, intensive care and chemotherapy.

“It is the whole span of modern medicine as we know it, that we will not be able to do if we lose antibiotics.”

These concerns echo conclusions drawn from the findings of a recent European Medicines Agency study into the rising number of multi-drug resistant bacteria.

Dr Bo Aronsson who led the study said, “Industry’s pipeline contains few new antibiotics active against multidrug-resistant bacteria. Without stimulating research and development into new antibiotics, an increasing number of infected patients will be without effective treatment”.

80% of antibiotics prescriptions in the UK are from GPs and community pharmacists, as opposed to hospitals where there is more legitimate need for them. Dr A. Adams, an Edinburgh medical practitioner commented, “The simple fact of the matter is that antibiotics do nothing to help viral illnesses like your cold, sore throat or flu. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not the viruses that cause flu. But GPs are often under pressure from patients, parents or pharmaceutical interests to prescribe antibiotics for these conditions,” adding that this situation will only be “exacerbated by the approaching flu season and predictions of a second wave of swine flu.” A 2002 survey found that 60% of people surveyed did not know that antibiotics do not work against viruses, so perhaps this pressure is understandable considering the lack of public understanding on the subject.

These warnings from the ECDC are only one of many attempts to steer GPs away from this path of least resistance, and to raise public awareness of just what antibiotics can and cannot do. For instance, this Wednesday will see the first annual European Antibiotic Awareness Day, a Europe-wide campaign aiming to inform and educate the public about the danger of antibiotic resistance and the importance of prudence in antibiotic use – emphasising the need to take antibiotics only as prescribed in order to maximise their effects and prevent the emergence of resistant bacteria.

According to the Department of Health, the government’s progress on this matter is “well ahead” of other European nations, but says that the Department of Health “recognises that this work must be sustained, with joint working across disciplinary boundaries, and that action must be maintained at local, national and international levels” to be effective.

As for those of us who are unfortunate enough to catch the flu this winter, the Chief Medical Officer of England, Sir Liam Donaldson simply advises that “you should rest, take plenty of fluids and speak to your pharmacist who will advise you on over the counter remedies that are available.”

Comments

  1. Rodney Basford says:

    So “It is the whole span of modern medicine as we know it, that we will not be able to do if we lose antibiotics.”

    Well, one thing that we can do is start using the methods that were relied upon before we had antibiotics, such as the oxygen therapies (ozone, hyperbaric oxygen; and the internal use of hydrogen peroxide and hydrochloric acid in very diluted forms).

    Then there’s medical electricity that has been researched for over two hundred years by some doctors since electricity itself was discovered; and is in use today mostly by informed individuals who have long since recognised the inadequacy of antibiotics and have seen through the blind faith of the cabal of doctors who depend on them at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry.

    If antibiotics are likely to become obsolete then is that the fault of over use or perhaps that they never were the silver bullets in the first place? If they cannot be replaced fast enough to overcome resistance, then what hope is there that new ones can be developed fast enough to keep up with the evolution of new bacterial species that seem to be outpacing the development of our innate immune systems?

    Many more species of bacteria exist than have ever been identified. So let’s stop kidding ourselves that antibiotics can ever prop up “modern medicine”.

    There are many more old-fashioned solutions to disease especially those bacterially based. Let’s open our minds and the history books!

  2. A ‘European Antibiotic Awareness Day’ sounds like a real hoot. But yeah, the idea of a return to a ‘pre-antibiotic’ era is terrifying, before antibiotics 40% of people with bacterial pneumonia died, now it’s closer to 5%.. the death toll if we had to go back to hydrogen peroxide and blood-letting would be terrible. People also need to make sure they finish their antibiotic treatments too so that they don’t just get a worse infection later. I’ll def be getting rid of the leftovers i have in my medicine cabinet..

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