Drug-resistant diseases pose apocalyptic threat
Senior medical advisor says that drug-resistant strains of flu could lead to catastrophe in U.K.
This is how the world ends? Not from a mad despot with his finger on the nuclear trigger, but a perpetual cough that won't go away, even after all manner of antibiotics have been used? Dame Sally Davies, Britain's most senior medical adviser in calculating the biggest threat to the United Kingdom has put drug-resistant diseases at the top of list.
The fearsome plague doctor of the Middle Ages wore a bird-like mask to protect himself from infection. The threat of plague has reared its head in 21st Century life with new strains of drug-resistant bacteria.
An "apocalyptic scenario," where people going for simple operations in as short as 20 years time die of routine infections "because we have run out of antibiotics," is a very real possibility, she says.
The highest priority risks Britain faces in the next five years include a deadly flu outbreak, catastrophic terrorist attacks, and major flooding on the scale of 1953, the last occasion on which a national emergency was declared in the U.K.
Davies, speaking to MPs on the Commons science and technology committee says she would ask the Cabinet Office to add antibiotic resistance to the national risk register.
Davies declined to elaborate on her report, coming in March but said its publication would coincide with a government strategy to promote more responsible use of antibiotics among doctors and the clinical professions. "We need to get our act together in this country," she said.
"There are few public health issues of potentially greater importance for society than antibiotic resistance. It means we are at increasing risk of developing infections that cannot be treated - but resistance can be managed.
"That is why we will be publishing a new cross-government strategy and action plan to tackle this issue in early spring."
Drug resistant-diseases are as old as antibiotics themselves. Over time, current medicine is overtaken by hardier, more resilient strains of the disease. Some of the best known of drug-resistant diseases are so-called hospital superbugs such as MRSA that are at the root of outbreaks among patients.
"In the past, most people haven't worried because we've always had new antibiotics to turn to," Alan Johnson, consultant clinical scientist at the Health Protection Agency says. "What has changed is that the development pipeline is running dry. We don't have new antibiotics that we can rely on in the immediate future or in the longer term."
Drug resistance is emerging in diseases across the board. Davies said 80 percent of gonorrhea was now resistant to the frontline antibiotic tetracycline, and infections were rising in young and middle-aged people.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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