“Antibiotic Resistance a ‘Catastrophic Threat.’” — Reuter’s headline, March 2014
“Antibiotic Apocalypse. A terrible future could be on the horizon, a future which rips one of the greatest tools of medicine out of the hands of doctors.” — BBC headline


The article continues:


“A simple cut to your finger could leave you fighting for your life. Luck will play a bigger role in your future than any doctor could. The most basic operations — getting an appendix removed or a hip replacement — could become deadly. Cancer treatments and organ transplants could kill you. Childbirth could once again become a deadly moment in a woman’s life. It’s a future without antibiotics.”


Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight bacterial infections. Used properly, antibiotics can save lives. Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses, such as:


— Colds and flu

— Most ear infections

— Sinusitis

— Most coughs and bronchitis

— Sore throats, unless caused by strep


Already many common illnesses can no longer be treated with simple antibiotics due to resistance. New superbugs such as MRSA are emerging. Cases of totally drug resistant tuberculosis have been identified in the past few years.


The Cause?


According to the journal Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control, the most important cause of resistance is the massive overuse of antibiotics worldwide in the past decades. This is across all ecosystems and includes humans, animals, aquaculture, and agriculture.
Added to this is the lack of new antibiotic technology in the pharmaceutical pipelines. The last family of antibiotics to be discovered was in the 1980s.


Many national and international meetings, workshops and task forces, as well as reports in the scientific literature and lay press, have been dedicated to this threat over the last decade, particularly in 2011. But due to a lack of coordination, there has been little impact.


Asia has the highest level of antibiotic resistance in the world and has only very recently recognised this critical healthcare problem. In 2013 it is estimated that 83 percent of people suffering from the common cold in China who went to see their doctor were prescribed antibiotics.


The Netherlands, on the other hand, has the lowest use of antibiotics in Europe and subsequently the lowest incidence of resistance.


A World Without Antibiotics


The harm that has been done cannot be undone but we can all try and reduce it further. Nobody wants to live in a world without antibiotics, to return to return to a life prior to Fleming’s discovery of Penicillin.


So here are some simple rules that we should all follow.


— Antibiotics should only be prescribed when necessary and by doctors

— The course should be finished even if the person is feeling better

— Antibiotics should not be saved for later use or given to friends or family


Dr Damien Cummins is from the UK and has been working for the International SOS Hanoi Clinic since 2012. His background is general and emergency medicine.


International SOS Hanoi Clinic is at 51 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho, Tel: (04) 3934 0666

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