World ‘at risk of returning to the pre-antibiotic era’

There are enough warning signs the world is in danger of reverting to an era when life-saving antibiotics were unavailable, a leading Irish microbiologist has warned.

Dr Fidelma Fitzpatrick, a consultant microbiologist, said antibiotics had utterly transformed modern medicine but that could all be undone by a casual attitude to their use.

Dr Fitzpatrick, clinical lead between the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and the HSE, said people used to die from common injuries, such as cuts and scratches, because there was no treatment available.

“Thankfully, this does not happen anymore as we have antibiotics available to treat these infections. However, antibiotics must be used appropriately and by misusing them we face the risk of returning to the pre-antibiotic era” she said.

Launching the HSE Action on Antibiotics campaign to mark European Antibiotic Awareness Day, she said no antibiotics had been developed since the year 2000 and bugs were getting more resistant.

“We need to use the ones we have wisely so, if we are prescribed them, we take them properly.”

She said antibiotics were discovered and used in the 1940s and there was a flurry of new antibiotics until the 1960s.

“There was a new antibiotic produced in the year 2000 and then that’s it in terms of new families of antibiotics. So the treatments are not coming thick and fast any more. The bugs are still there and they are going to develop resistance. It’s going to happen.”

The Irish College of General Practitioners’s lead adviser on antibiotic resistance, Dr Nuala O’Connor, said patterns of resistance could be seen in Europe.

“In Northern Europe the overall consumption is less; narrow spectrum antibiotics are prescribed and they are not easily available. In Southern Europe, the opposite is the case.”

Dr O’Connor said they had to get away from the blame game. “This is a worldwide problem and it is something we need to face as a community.”

President of the Irish College of General Practitioners Dr Seamus Cryan said one third of the population had taken an antibiotic last year.

Dr Cryan said that if the number of people taking antibiotics could be reduced to one in four, doctors could be doing a great service to the health of the country.

Time scales

* An ear infection can take four days to clear.

* A sore throat can take a week to recover.

* A common cold can take seven to 10 days before it goes away.

* Sinusitis untreated can take two-and-a-half weeks to clear.

* A cough can persist for three weeks.

— Dr Seamus Cryan, a GP based in Galway City and president of the Irish College of General Practitioners.


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