England’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, said recently that resistance to antibiotics are one of our everyday health’s greatest threats Dame Sally actually warned that death rates from bacterial infections have a chance to return to those of the early 20th century, describing resistance to antibiotics in her book as a "catastrophic global threat" that should be ranked alongside terrorism, writing “We have taken antibacterial and other antimicrobial drugs for granted for too long. We have misused them through overuse and false prescription, and as a result the bugs are growing in resistance and fighting back. We are also not developing new drugs fast enough. (1)
This is not a distant threat: already, resistant bugs are killing 25,000 people a year across Europe”. (2)
Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, issued a blunt warning: “If we’re not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era. For some patients and some microbes, we are already there. At least 2 million people per year in the U.S. get infections that are resistant to antibiotics and 23,000 die as a result of these infections”. (3)
There is no dispute of this. Dame Sally Davies said that the reason for this was the lack of new drugs combined with massive overuse of existing antibiotics. Another reason for this resistance is the situation of the overuse of antibiotics in livestock and poultry production. (4)
UK factory farmed chickens are bred to reach a weight of 2.2 kilo in five weeks with a stocking density of 17 to 20 birds a square metre, slightly less than an A4 sheet of paper. In these situations antibiotics are needed on a regular basis. It is a fact that about two thirds of chickens on sale in the UK have been found to be contaminated with the bug campylobacter. (5)
Superbugs that are highly resistant to the antibiotics used by doctors have been found in British farm animals. Livestock, especially pigs, are a reservoir of new bacteria which are a threat to human health, suggest a new Government study. Virtually all - 94.5 per cent - of the 13million pigs slaughtered in the UK in the past year carried campylobacter, which can be very serious indeed, it can kill.
Nearly one in four pigs’ carries salmonella and one in three will carry another little-known food-poisoning bacterium, Yesinia. In fact over half the worldwide production of anti-biotics are used on animals. The ciwf report states “The world’s public-health experts, from the European Union, the United States and the World Health Organization, are agreed that drug-resistant bacteria are created in farm animals by antibiotic use and that these resistant bacteria are transmitted to people in food and then spread by person-to-person transmission. In addition, genes for antibiotic resistance are known to be transferable to other bacteria of the same or a different strain or species. (6)
Any humans infected through food or contaminated water with these bugs - new strains of E.coli and campylobacter - are at serious risk. For the bugs have become immune to the medicinal antibiotics which would normally be used to drive them out of the body. Doctors are also worried that this immunity is being passed on to humans over time, through food. (7)
Without effective anti-biotics the world we know would change tomorrow. We could all be facing a future where it is no longer possible to have an organ transplant, hip replacement or help our bodies through cancer treatment as the risk of fatal infection is too great. Everyone has a role to play in preserving the antibiotics that we have now, both for ourselves and to protect future generations.
Are we paying the price due to the never ending consumer demand for antibiotics whenever we have a cold or flu and our insistence on ever cheaper food? (8)