There are thousands of people dying right now from diseases that we cannot treat, because the usual drugs simply do not work. Britain’s Prime minister David Cameron warned that drug-resistant superbugs could take us back to the dark ages in medical terms. Is the way forward to create new drugs, to improve preventative measures or to return to natural remedies? Lance Price at the George Washington University School of Public Health, Dr. Martha Cloakie, Reader in Microbiology in the Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation at the University of Leicester, and Lucy Kenyon, an English public health worker, share their opinions and findings with Voice of Russia's Eco Plus.
What Diseases are we talking about?
Lance Price: We are talking about anything from what used to be simple staph infections – skin and soft tissue infections – to urinary tract infections that can progress to kidney infections and blood infections. We are talking about tuberculosis. A gamete of different bacterial infections that were once readily treatable with antibiotics are now resistant to those drugs.
Things like salmonella?
Lance Price: Salmonella is a good example. And we see that there are strains of salmonella that have become resistant to lots of different antibiotics because of antibiotic use in animal production. So, there is a problem with antibiotic overuse both in human medicine, but also in animal production that leads to drug resistant bacteria that can cause infections in people.
Is the situation really as serious as it is made out to be?
Dr. Cloakie: I don’t think it is being exaggerated by the drug companies. The drug companies, if anything, are not keeping up with producing new antibiotics. There’s been a real lack of investment in this area. They are trying to make a little bit of a demand, but, no, it is increasingly apparent that, if you look at many bacterial diseases in Britain, such as pseudomonas, you can see the proportion of these bacteria that are evolving resistance to antibiotics is increasing. So, it is a serious problem in the UK, as well as worldwide.
But we don’t actually have people in the UK dying yet, do we?
Lucy Kenyon: I would say that we do. Certainly, when I used to work on intensive care unit back in the 1990’es, we were seeing patients who were dying in intensive care because they had drug resistant infections.
Lance Price: Thousands of people are dying in the UK of drug resistant infections. Have you head of MRSA - methasone resistant staph aureus. That’s the superbug. That’s a drug resistant bacterial infection which is very common in the UK, and even more common in the US.
And what is the situation there?
Lance Price: Because of antibiotic overuse, again, both in human medicine and in food animal production, we have lots of drug resistant infections every year in the US. It is estimated that 11 000 Americans die just of one superbug, this methasone resistant staph aureus.
What is the solution?
Dr. Cloakie: One of the most logical areas which should be investigated is the use of bacteria to treat bacterial infections. And this is being done over the last century in some places such as Georgia and in various places in Eastern Europe. There really has been a massive under-researched area in the West for a long time, it was seen as an unnecessary avenue to pursue. So, most our common antibiotics are derived from bacterial fungi. But the other natural enemy of bacteria is of course the viruses. So, either by using the viruses per se or products from them you’ve got a whole new set of antimicrobials that could be developed to cut on the use of antibiotics and to be used against those bacteria that have already got some drug resistance.
Lance Price: I think that that’s one option. I think we need to explore a lot of different options. We need new antibiotics as well. But what we need most are antibiotic stewardship programs. And we need to come together globally, in really international partnerships to bring antibiotic use under control.
Because the thing is – we first discovered antibiotics in the 1930’es and we’ve had new antibiotics every few years to combat drug resistance that keeps emerging. But the problem is that the way we use them helps encourage the resistance in these bacteria. So, if we can use them more carefully, as they do I northern Europe, the Scandinavian countries, we can actually preserve the antibiotics that we have for years to come.