Superbugs Will Take Us Back to the Days before Penicillin; the Dirty Bug: No Urgency Behind the Push for Better Hygiene

Article excerpt

Byline: Lucie van den Berg

SUPERBUGS could soon have a devastating effect on major surgery, organ transplants and cancer chemotherapy, according to fresh medical evidence.

The bacteria are threatening to plunge the world back into a pre-antibiotic era, medical experts warned last night.

Ireland is already feeling the effects: we have one of the highest rates in Europe of MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), a deadly super-bug that resists standard antibiotics.

Professor Otto Cars of Uppsala University in Sweden led a chorus of calls for a global response to combat the rising rates of bacterial resistance.

He warned that every time an antibiotic is used it diminishes the ability to use it in the future.

The professor pointed out: The growing phenomenon of bacterial resistance, caused by the use and abuse of antibiotics and the simultaneous decline in research and development of new medicines, is now threatening to take the world back to a pre-antibiotic era.

Without effective treatment and prevention of bacterial infections, we also risk rolling back important achievements of modern medicine such as major surgery, organ transplantation, and cancer chemotherapy.

Professor Cars said, in the British Medical Journal yesterday, that existing antibiotics are losing their effect at an alarming rate while the development of new antibiotics is declining.

More than a dozen new classes of antibiotics were developed between 1930 and 1970, but only two have been launched since.

After the discovery of penicillin in 1929, antibiotics transformed medicine and saved millions of lives.

But their widespread use has led to the evolution of super-bugs bacteria which have developed resistance to antibiotics, the most infamous of which is MRSA.

Officially, the number of patients affected by MRSA bloodstream infections in Ireland was at 572 in 2006, and it fell to 526 last year.

But the figures from the Health Service Executive fail to take account of wound, limb and organ MRSA infections, usually contracted in dirty hospitals.

Cancer patients and other seriously ill people are more vulnerable to the superbugs as their immune systems can be damaged by treatments designed to help them, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

A spokesman for MRSA & Families Network, Margaret Dawson, said there is a lack of urgency from the health authorities in raising awareness about the importance of hospital hygiene and the dangers of over prescribing drugs. …