IRELAND is among the countries where resistant superbugs are on the march, posing particular risk to vulnerable patients whose defences are low.
A recent damning report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which looked at data from 114 countries, said the growing resistance to these once magic bullets against infections threatens to turn back the clock to a time before antibiotics, when even minor injuries and common infections could kill.
The warning was echoed by Prof Martin Cormican, Prof of Bacteriology at NUI Galway, who said Ireland is still lagging behind countries like Sweden and Norway in its overuse of antibiotics and spread of infection.
He said: “When you compare Ireland to those countries, we still use a lot of antibiotics per head of population. We use more of the broad spectrum antibiotics and, as a country, we don’t do infection control as well.
“The resistance is driven by how many antibiotics you use in hospital, the community and, to an extent, in agriculture. The other is how good are the systems to stop the antibiotic resistant bacteria from speading from one person to another.”
Prof Cormican said we in Ireland have “big problems across the board. You have bugs that are resistant to not just one, but five or six or seven antibiotics. You are down to two or three options so sometimes the drugs you are down to are harder to use, more toxic.
“In Ireland, bacteria that are resistant to everything are still very rare. But those that are increasingly resistant to drugs that are easier to use are increasingly common. Treating doctors are finding themselves using drugs that are less safe and effective.”
He said there are no estimates of how many people are dying in Ireland as a result of resistance. “It is hard to know what the figures mean. The vast majority of people who die having had an antibiotic associated infection were already pretty sick.
“The likelihood that it will do any harm to anyone in the full of their health is not great. The problem poses the biggest threat to those who are already the most vulnerable,” he added.
The diseases which are under threat of antibiotic resistance include:
• Tuberculosis — this should be treatable within six months once people are prescribed a course of antibiotics. But resistance has emerged to common medicines and the wider range of pharmaceuticals used to treat the disease.
• Gonorrhoea — there is just one antibiotic left capable of treating it and even this, ceftriaxone, is said to be becoming less effective.
• Klebsiella — this can cause a wide range of conditions including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, septicaemia, meningitis and diarrhoea.
• Syphillis and Diphtheria — resistance to these diseases has not yet emerged but the fear is that it could happen, posing a serious public health threat.
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