Last week, England’s chief medical officer compared the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to the threat of global terrorism. Surprisingly, the comparison was understated, says Dr. Kevin Fong, noting that bacterial resistance causes more deaths each year than terrorist attacks. “While it is difficult to track the global impact of antibiotic resistance across all bacterial species, the World Health Organisation estimates that for tuberculosis alone multi-drug resistance accounts for more than 150,000 deaths each year. Antibiotic resistance is no longer an abstract risk: this is now a war.”
What’s the Big Idea?
Through the 20th century, there has been a slow but gradual erosion of strong antibacterial drugs once thought of as a last resort. Exotic drugs like vancomycin and teicoplanin were once used to combat Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, a bacterial species resistant to methicillin and all other penicillins. But today, bacterial resistance to vancomycin has appeared in hospitals, where the problem of superbugs is especially pernicious. “This is a war like no other. There needs to be cultural change in our prescribing behaviours and more restraint in the use of antibiotics in farming and agricultural processes.”
Biologists have begun to discover just what a treasure trove the oceans’ coral reefs are in terms of finding potential cures to some of humanity’s worst diseases, despite threats to the reefs’ existence.