Belfast Telegraph

Why looming antibiotic crisis must be tackled now, by three Northern Ireland experts

Concern is growing that antibiotic misuse is leading to resistant bacteria
Concern is growing that antibiotic misuse is leading to resistant bacteria

One of the most important advances in medicine came in 1928, when Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic properties of the fungus penicillium and developed penicillin, the first antibiotic.

Since then a great range of antimicrobial medicines have become a critical part of human healthcare and veterinary medicine, both treating and preventing infections.

The problem is that bacteria and other microbes mutate, evolve and acquire new characteristics.

New strains emerge which are resistant to particular antibiotics or other antimicrobial treatments.

Resistance can even jump from one species to another.

New, resistant strains are emerging faster than we are developing new antibiotics or other antimicrobials.

We are now seeing cases of tuberculosis that are incurable, because they are resistant to every antibiotic that we have.

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Antibiotics are used in surgery to prevent infection.

If the drugs don't work, procedures that are routine will no longer be safe, for example, caesarean sections or having your appendix removed.

In 2015, it is estimated that 33,000 people died because of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Europe.

And this figure might be an underestimation.

Reducing our use of antibiotics is one of the best ways we can tackle this growing crisis.

AMR is one of the most serious threats to health across the world.

As certain antibiotics lose their ability to kill particular strains of microbe, and if we cannot develop new drugs that can beat those bugs, then by the year 2050 we can expect about 10 million deaths per year, worldwide, from drug-resistant infections.

Resistance is much wider than human medicine.

It is also about farming, veterinary medicine, the food chain and the environment.

These are all inextricably linked, which is why we need to work across disciplines and between organisations to deal with the threat if we are to avoid a post-antibiotic disaster. This collaborative approach is known as One Health.

This week we are launching a five-year action plan for Northern Ireland to address antimicrobial resistance.

Only a 'One Health' approach can keep our antibiotics working, and help us to invent new classes of antibiotics for the future.

The action plan also includes measures to reduce the need for antibiotics through preventing infection by improving hygiene, biosecurity measures and implementing effective vaccination strategies.

Each of us can join in the fight.

One of the most effective weapons that we have is soap and water.

Washing our hands is the best way to prevent infections occurring in the first place, and reduce the need for antibiotics to treat them.

Also, trust your vet or doctor and accept their advice that an antibiotic may not be appropriate for every infection.

Vets and doctors have the knowledge and diagnostic tools to decide the best treatment for you and your animals.

And if we don't demand an antibiotic for a cold or flu, that too can help to defend our defences.

Michael McBride,

Chief Medical Officer

Robert Huey,

Chief Veterinary Officer

Maria Jennings,

Director, Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph


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