Antimicrobial resistance could soon kill at least 10 million people per year and wipe out humanity “before climate change does”, England’s chief medical officer has warned.
Professor Sally Davies also cautioned the post-Brexit UK against importing meat or fish from countries that “misuse” antibiotics while rearing livestock.
Antibiotics overuse in medicine and agriculture leads to bugs no longer responding to the drugs made to kill them.
If these antibiotics stop working, a minor infection such as a skin wound could prove fatal.
Professor Davies, who leaves her post at the end of September after nine years, told Sky News: “We humans are doing it to ourselves, but it could kill us before climate change does.
“It is a very important area and we are under-investing in sorting it out.
“Antibiotics underpin modern medicine – you can’t have gut surgery, replacement hips, all sorts of surgery without risking infection.
“At least 10 million could die every year if we don’t get on top of this.”
UK Government data shows that, since 2014, the UK has cut the amount of antibiotics it uses by more than 7% and sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals has dropped by 40%.
But the number of drug-resistant bloodstream infections increased by 35% between 2013 and 2017.
Asked about post-Brexit trade deals, she told the broadcaster: “There’s always a balance in a trade relationship between economics and standards, and this Government has given a commitment to translate the European law… and stick to the standards we have, so it should all be all right.”
Professor Davies also argued the UK “should not be importing beef or other animals where antibiotics have been misused and growth promotion is a misuse, in my book, because it leads to problems across the world.”
Some strains of bugs including tuberculosis, MRSA and Clostridium difficile no longer respond to antibiotics that used to be effective against them.
There has also been a rise in so-called superbugs, which are resistant to not just one antibiotic but several or all of them.
Professor Davies will soon take up a role as special envoy on antimicrobial resistance.
- Press Association