Sunday 22 September 2019

Last line of antibiotics powerless against new resistant superbugs

A laboratory worker tests bacteria strains
A laboratory worker tests bacteria strains

Sarah Knapton in London

Bacteria such as E.coli have mutated to be resistant to our last line of antibiotics and untreatable bugs may already be circulating in Britain, scientists have warned.

Health experts have said for years that antibiotic resistance could send medicine back to the dark ages, with even the smallest infections proving lethal.

Currently, when all other drugs fail, doctors use polymyxins as a last resort to treat bacterial infections such as E.coli and those which cause pneumonia.

But British scientists have discovered that pigs and meat sold in China are infected with bacteria carrying a new gene which makes them resistant to these rearguard antibiotics.

The MCR-1 gene is in a part of the DNA which can be easily copied and transferred between bacteria, leading experts to conclude that “pandemic resistance is inevitable”.

The mutated forms were also found in 1,322 hospitalised patients in China and is thought to have already spread to Laos and Malaysia.

British scientists and health experts described the discovery as “alarming”.

Meanwhile, pet owners who fail to follow their vet’s advice when giving medicines to their animals are increasing the risk of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that can infect people, Public Health England (PHE) has warned.

“Many people do not realise that antibiotic resistant bacteria can pass between humans and animals and vice versa,” said Dr Diane Ashiru-Oredope, pharmacist lead for PHE’s antimicrobial resistance programme.

“It’s really important that we educate all pet owners that it is not just humans who can be affected by antibiotic-resistant bugs; animals are also at risk.”

She added: “It is important that the antibiotics are taken as prescribed... Even if your pet isn’t keen on the idea of taking tablets, we are urging pet owners to ensure they do.”

One in four dogs and cats are prescribed antibiotics after a visit to the vets, according to BSAVA, which is now funding research to look at levels of antibiotic resistance.

Several hundred tonnes of antibiotics are given to animals in Britain each year, with 418 tonnes used in 2013, according to the government. This is not far short of the 531 tonnes used for people that year.

The government does not record data on antibiotic resistant infections in pets, but the dangers in farm animals have already become clear.

Salmonella which is resistant to ampicillin has been found in 76pc of pigs, and streptomycin-resistant salmonella has been detected in 77pc of turkeys. And two-thirds of farm animals generally – including cattle, sheep, pigs, turkeys and chickens – have ampicillin-resistant E.coli, according to a PHE report.

Irish Independent

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