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Devastating effects of antibiotic overuse strike Europe as 'superbugs' develop resistance to last-line antibiotics

Sunday, November 24, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: superbugs, antibiotic resistance, devestating effects

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(NaturalNews) The most powerful class of antibiotics known to man appears to be losing its ability to fight deadly infections in Europe, says the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). A recent announcement by this European Union (EU) monitoring agency warns that carbapenems, an extremely powerful class of antibiotics typically used as a last resort when all else fails, are simply no match to the many emerging "superbugs" that have developed resistance to them.

This latest round of warnings, which follows several years' worth of previous warnings, draws fresh attention to the continued overuse and misuse of antibiotics all around the world. With each passing year, more and more infection types are failing to respond to carbapenems, which means that all available conventional options for treating and defeating them have basically been exhausted. ECDC also says there has been a sharp uptick in resistance rates just within the past four years, especially in Southern Europe.

"Carbapenems are the last-line class of antibiotics, so the situation is really worrying," says ECDC director Marc Sprenger. "Since 2009, it has become increasingly common for hospitals to be faced with treating patients that have carbapenem-resistant infections, often meaning that old and toxic drugs are used."

According to the latest data gathered by ECDC, almost every European country now has documented cases of carbapenem-resistant infections at hospitals. In some areas of Southern and Eastern Europe, including in Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia, as many as 5 percent of Klebsiella pneumoniae infections are resistant. And as for the Acinetobacter bacteria, as many as 25 percent of infections in at least eight of the 18 reporting countries are resistant.

"We need to find ways to use valuable antimicrobial drugs more wisely and to develop new drugs and treatments," says Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science.

The EU recently approved funding for a joint project between Switzerland-based drug giant Roche and Polyphor to develop and commercialize an experimental antibiotic that the two companies say might be able to help fight hospital superbugs. Since most of the world's major drug companies are focused on other projects unrelated to antibiotics, the goal is to help fill this gap and develop new therapies to overcome the superbug epidemic.

Superbugs will set modern medicine back 100 years, say government scientists

But not everyone is convinced that this can actually be accomplished. In a special editorial that was recently published in the journal The Lancet, U.K. government doctors wrote that superbugs threaten to undo an entire century's worth of medical advances. Referring to this future state of existence as the "post-antibiotic era," these same scientists infer that superbugs are one of the gravest threats in the history of medicine.

"Rarely has modern medicine faced such a grave threat," wrote these doctors, which included England's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, in their report. "Without antibiotics, treatments from minor surgery to major transplants could become impossible, and health-care costs are likely to spiral as we resort to newer, more expensive antibiotics and sustain longer hospital admissions."

Much of the problem has to do with the public's perception of antibiotics, which includes a general expectation that they will be prescribed on demand for almost any ailment. Many patients simply will not accept not being prescribed an antibiotic if they believe they need one, making it hard for many doctors to change their normal practice routines.

"We try hard not to prescribe, but it's difficult in practice," says Dr. Peter Swinyard, chairman of the U.K.-based Family Doctor Association. "The patient will be dissatisfied with your consultation, and is likely to vote with their feet, register somewhere else or go to the walk-in centre and get antibiotics from the nurse."

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