The antibiotic resistance apocalypse is coming, and New Zealand isn't immune

The antibiotic resistance apocalypse is coming, and New Zealand isn't immune

Originally published on Stuff

Medical professionals and patients alike are being urged to think more carefully about their antibiotic use with new drugs failing to keep pace with increasing superbug outbreaks.

Speaking at the recent New Zealand Anaesthesia Annual Scientific Meeting in Auckland, infectious disease specialist Dr Stephen McBride outlined the current global situation as well as the complexity of stopping the spread of superbugs in New Zealand hospitals.

McBride, the clinical head of infectious diseases at Middlemore Hospital, said even top shelf, upgraded penicillin was now ineffective against the latest threat of carbapenem-resistant organisms (CROs).

"As time goes on we get new waves of drug-resistant organisms. It started in the 50s and 60s with the H-bug, which we're still battling with, and now we have the latest threat, CROs, which inhabit the gut."

New Zealand's geographical isolation has, however, worked in its favour with the country about ten years behind the resistance curve.

"That has started to pick up exponentially and now at Middlemore Hospital, about eight per cent of our in-patients are known to have these ESBL [extended-spectrum beta-lactamases] germs in their gut," McBride said.

While a significant number of anti-skin infection antibiotics had come out in the last 30 years, McBride said there had been virtually no new anti-gut organism antibiotics.

"If our top shelf upgraded penicillin is ineffective against CRO, we are running out of options. We have been modifying old drugs but have failed to find something completely new that the bugs haven't had time to figure out how to deal with."

While he painted a grim a picture of the current global situation, McBride said there were easy things people could do, such as washing their hands, to help prevent the spread of superbugs.

Busy health care workers needed to also ensure infection control was seen as vital and at the top of competing demands for time, he said.

He also advocated for rational prescription of antibiotics by doctors and rational demand from patients.

McBride's message comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) launches its annual Antibiotic Awareness Week, a campaign to highlight concerns about the emergence of bacterial strains showing resistance to all classes of antibiotics.

The week, which runs till November 18, encourages best practices among the general public, health workers and policy makers to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.

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