by Ross Walker

We have been warned for years about the increasing amount of superbugs that are resistant to many antibiotics. It is estimated that there are over 1,000 deaths every year in Australia related to this problem.

Antibiotics have been generally used since the 1940’s not just for humans, but also for veterinary purposes. Many domestic animals are given antibiotics as part of the food stock process.

Very disturbingly, last month a 49-year old female presented to a Military Treatment Centre in Pennsylvania with a urinary tract infection. The woman’s urine specimen had a strain of E-coli that possessed a Colistin resistant gene called MCR1. This first arose last year in China in a pig infected with E-coli and has since been found in parts of Europe and Canada.

If this drug resistant gene spreads to other bacteria, this could signal an end to what is already a last resort antibiotic. It has been estimated that antibiotic resistant infections affect around 2,000,000 people per year in the United States, with 23,000 deaths. A relatively new bacteria – carbapenem (a very strong antibiotic) resistant enterobacteriacae (CRE) is becoming an increasing problem with a very high death rate.

Many people are becoming increasingly concerned about being admitted to a hospital for a routine procedure, only to contract one of these serious hospital acquired infections.

The only sound advice here is to try and minimise your exposure to antibiotics. If you have a typical viral illness, antibiotics are not only useless, but can delay your recovery by wiping out your own healthy gut bacteria that are an important component of your immune system. Also, each exposure you have to antibiotics increases your risk of developing antibiotic resistant bacteria that lie in wait until your inherent immune system is compromised by an intercurrent illness.

As I said in a recent article, the commonest cause of death in the modern world is cardiovascular disease and closing in fast at number two is cancer, but not far behind is Western healthcare. This recent discovery of a bacterial resistance to all antibiotics may be the end of the antibiotic era. Let’s hope this is not the case.