The world is on the cusp of a “post-antibiotic era”, and so is Africa in the Cusp of Antibiotic Resistant scientists have warned after finding bacteria resistant to drugs used when all other treatments have failed.
Bacteria becoming completely resistant to treatment – also known as the antibiotic apocalypse – could plunge medicine back into the dark ages.
Common infections would kill once again, while surgery and cancer therapies, which are reliant on antibiotics, would be under threat.
Chinese scientists identified a new mutation, dubbed the MCR-1 gene, that prevented colistin from killing bacteria.
The report in the Lancet Infectious Diseases showed resistance in a fifth of animals tested, 15% of raw meat samples and in 16 patients.
COMMON ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT PATHOGENS IN NIGERIA
• Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
• Vancomycin resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Enterococci
• Multidrug resistant gram negative bacteria such as those with extended spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) resistance and carbapanem resistant enterobacteriacae
• Multi drug and extensive-drug resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MDR-TB and XDR-TB)
And the resistance had spread between a range of bacterial strains and species, including E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
At that point if a patient is seriously ill, say with E. coli, then there is virtually nothing you can do.
Resistance to colistin has emerged before.
However, the crucial difference this time is the mutation has arisen in a way that is very easily shared between bacteria.
“The transfer rate of this resistance gene is ridiculously high, that doesn’t look good,” said Prof Mark Wilcox, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
His hospital is now dealing with multiple cases “where we’re struggling to find an antibiotic” every month – an event he describes as being as “rare as hens’ teeth” five years ago.
He said there was no single event that would mark the start of the antibiotic apocalypse, but it was clear “we’re losing the battle”.
The concern is that the new resistance gene will hook up with others plaguing hospitals, leading to bacteria resistant to all treatment – what is known as pan-resistance.
Projections of deaths from drug-resistant infections by 2050.
Prof Laura Piddock, from the campaign group Antibiotic Action, said the same antibiotics “should not be used in veterinary and human medicine”.
She told the BBC News website: “Hopefully the post-antibiotic era is not upon us yet. However, this is a wake-up call to the world.”
She argued the dawning of the post-antibiotic era “really depends on the infection, the patient and whether there are alternative treatment options available” as combinations of antibiotics may still be effective.
New drugs are in development, such as teixobactin, which might delay the apocalypse, but are not yet ready for medical use.
A commentary in the Lancet concluded the “implications [of this study] are enormous” and unless something significant changes, doctors would “face increasing numbers of patients for whom we will need to say, ‘Sorry, there is nothing I can do to cure your infection.'”
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