Antibiotic Resistant “Superbug” has Arrived in Europe

By Rod Pennington

Being married to a microbiologist, for years I’ve heard the warnings. We are only a year or two ahead of a new drug resistant bacterium. According to The Lancet a well-respected British infectious disease publication, time has just run out.

In their rather clinical and understated analysis of the problem, The Lancet reports, “The potential of NDM-1 to be a worldwide public health problem is great, and co-ordinated international surveillance is needed.”

Be afraid, be very afraid. During the American Civil War and World War 1, more men died from infections than from combat. In those days it wasn’t just the enlisted men who were at risk. In 1901, President William McKinley died from a gangrene infection eight days after being shot. The same wound could have been easily treated with penicillin if he had been shot 3 decades later.

This morning, a report from the French news service, AFP, “Belgian man dies of South Asian superbug.” Unlike overhyped pending disasters such as global warming or over population, this could likely be the first of millions and millions of  people who will die.

There are many villains in this story and no heroes. The list includes doctors who have over prescribed antibiotics for years. Next are people who have gotten a prescription but failed to complete their treatment which allowed the bugs to survive and be immune to the same drug the next time. And, then there is the combination of bad government policy and drug companies making bloodless business decisions.

The government’s approval process can take years and forces pharmaceutical companies to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a new drug. The problem, a drug resistant strain of bacteria may emerge during the approval process making the drug in development worthless. Plus, even if the drug manages to come out of clinical trials while it is still worthwhile, between the doctors over prescribing and the patients not following directions, the clock immediately starts ticking on obsolescence.

The drug companies are unwilling to spend millions of dollars on a new antibiotic since they are unlike to ever recoup their expenses before the new drug is worthless. Changes need to be made in the new drug approval process, and soon.

Learn More:
Are you ready for a world without antibiotics?
New superbug spreads to UK hospitals
Was the superbug imported into India?

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Posted by on Aug 13 2010. Filed under Featured Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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