Opinion Former Article

MRSA Action UK: Resistant bacteria - the biggest threat to human health

We hope that the Government and the Health Secretary will take heed of the warnings in the Chief Medical Officer’s report, and calls from Dame Sally Davies to place more emphasis on prevention of bacterial infections, and on research into the bacteria and how resistance to antimicrobials can be tackled.

It is essential that a different approach is taken around the issue of antimicrobial resistance, and it is imperative that help is given to pharmaceutical companies to develop the next generation of antimicrobials and research with vaccines.

There are very few antimicrobials in the pipeline for gram positive bacteria such as MSSA. For gram negative bacteria such as E.coli there are no antimicrobials in development or likely to be for many years to come. The magnitude of the crisis we face becomes apparent when we note that 16 new antibacterial agents were approved and brought to market between 1983 and 1987, compared with less than four agents between 2008 and 2012.

The threat that antimicrobial resistance poses to human health cannot be underestimated. As members of MRSA Action UK are only too aware, with families having lost loved ones as a result of MRSA, just one example of a bacterium that has evolved and can be more difficult to treat.

It is no exaggeration when the Chief Medical Officer states that antimicrobial resistance is a bigger threat than terrorism to the population of not just countries but around the world. She is correct also to state that antimicrobial resistance, if left unchecked will be a catastrophic threat to us all and future generations burying our heads in the sand will only create massive problems for future generations and this could leave the bacteria winning this war.

We are in a race against a formidable enemy, they are adapting, and changing to the environment we create for them, we have to change that environment so that we retain control. However this will never happen until Governments around the World (including our own) face up to the task that is being set by these bacteria, they need to work in collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry to find new and better ways to combat the threat from these bacteria. Bacteria are becoming fitter and stronger, while our Governments are losing the resolve to take the tough decisions necessary to win this battle.

Antimicrobials are probably the single most important discovery in the history of medicine. They were considered miracle drugs. Over the years they have saved millions of lives by killing bacteria that cause some of the worst infectious diseases in humans. As far back as the mid 1960s there was growing concern over multi-drug-resistant salmonella and E.coli in the United Kingdom. MRSA Action UK’s grave concern is that subsequent scientific research, developed primarily during the 1990s, shows that transferable resistance is not restricted to certain bacteria, but is much more widespread within the microbes, and that resistant genes can easily move not only between closely related bacterial species, but also between unrelated bacterial species.

Dr David Livermore, from the Health Protection Agency has said that it is critical to understand how modern medicine relies on antimicrobials, and the ability to treat infections. Much of our modern medicine depends heavily upon the control of infection with antimicrobials, and if they were to become largely ineffective it would have calamitous consequences for medical science. It would mean that the success of many routine treatments and procedures, from life-saving transplants and cancer chemotherapy, to joint replacements and therapies for cystic fibrosis sufferers would be consigned to the history books. We would return to a pre-antimicrobial era where many people suffer or die from untreatable bacterial infections.

It is therefore imperative to heed the Chief Medical Officers report because if we fail to act with a concerted effort against bacteria, it is certain that defeat against bacteria will lead to the complete and irremediable defeat for us and future generations in the battle against bacteria.

Derek Butler
Chair
MRSA Action UK
http://mrsaactionuk.net
07762 741114
derek.butler@mrsaactionuk.net

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