A rise in antibiotic-resistant blood poisoning – caused by the E.coli bacteria – is posing such a huge risk that experts fear the country could be facing a timebomb of diseases that are impossible to treat.
The growth of antibiotic-resistance has become so serious that experts now say it is as much of a threat to global health as the emergence of new diseases such as Aids and pandemic flu.
It is now such a cause for concern that health professionals believe the issue has become the medicine world’s equivalent to climate change, it has been reported.
According to the Independent, Professor Peter Hawkey said common infections are threatening to turn into untreatable diseases by the ‘slow but insidious growth’ of resistant organisms.
The clinical microbiologist, and chair of the Government’s antibiotic-resistance working group, told the Independent: ‘It is a worldwide issue – there are no boundaries.
‘We have very good policies on the use of antibiotics in man and in animals in the UK. But we are not alone. We have to think globally.’
It is estimated that 25,000 people die every year in Europe from bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics.
Those resistant to antibiotics have risen from 1 per cent at the beginning of the century to 10 per cent, according to the Independent.
The incidence of E.coli ‘bacteraemias’ – which is the presence of bacteria in the blood – rose by 30 per cent, from 18,000 to over 25,000 cases, between 2005 and 2009.
Professor Hawkey’s group has produced a report commissioned by the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs into the issue.
‘Drug companies are not as interested in developing new and more effective types of antiobiotics as they are, for instance, heart medication, because the former is a short-term course while the latter is a lifelong medication – and more commercially viable.
In it, says: ‘Only one in 20 of infections with [resistant] E.coli is a bacteraemia, so the above data are only the tip of an iceberg of infected individuals.’
The Government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has now pledged £500,000 to fund research into the threat.
The steep increase in E.coli blood poisoning is thought to be linked with the ageing of the population.
The bacteria is also a common cause of urinary-tract infections but may also cause wound infections following surgery or injury.
Last year it emerged how a ‘super’ resistant strain of E.coli was behind many cases of cystitis, which doctors were having trouble treating with antibiotics.