(NaturalNews) China's profligate use of antibiotics in both medicine and agriculture is creating a grave threat to global health, scientists have warned.
Overuse of antibiotics encourages the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as "superbugs," which are far more dangerous than their antibiotic-sensitive relatives.
The overuse of medical antibiotics in China is well-documented, and is attributed in part to the country's underfunded health care system. Because hospitals are forced to raise money for their own operations through drug sales, doctors have a powerful incentive to prescribe antibiotics for health complaints as simple as sore throats. In the city of Chongqing, antibiotics account for nearly 50 percent of all drugs sales.
"In Chinese hospitals our data shows that 60 percent of in-patients are being prescribed antibiotics compared with the WHO guideline of 30 percent," said Xiao Yonghong of the Beijing University, head of China's National Antibiotic Resistance Investigation Network.
In addition, pharmacists regularly violate the law by selling antibiotics without prescriptions to those -- including doctors -- who wish to self-medicate. In an experiment by the Daily Telegraph, three out of five pharmacists questioned were willing to do so.
Combined with widespread agricultural use, these practices have turned China into an ideal breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
"Over just the last five years, for example, our studies show the rate antibiotic-resistant e. coli has quadrupled from 10 percent to 40 percent."
Antibiotic resistance rates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in Chinese hospitals have increased from 30 to 70 percent, he said.
Recently, a team of researchers found a previously unknown strain of MRSA in Chinese pigs exported to Hong Kong.
Scientists warn that with the modern ease of global travel, China's new superbugs will quickly spread around the world.
"The Chinese Ministry of Health has all the data," said a Beijing-based health expert, "but they seem unable or unwilling to believe it. The situation has global implications and is highly disturbing."