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The ticking time bomb that is Antibiotic resistance

When Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said that antibiotic resistance is a ‘ticking time-bomb’, that it could mean a return to 19th-century treatments for infection, and that as a threat it ranks alongside terrorism.

The problem is being caused by gram negative organisms. They live in our guts, where they exchange antibiotic resistance genes with abandon.

Even worse, all the obvious weaknesses in bacteria that can be attacked by antibiotics have already been targeted. So the development of new drugs is very difficult. And antibiotics are not good business for Big Pharmaceuticals, because they cure patients quickly, unlike blood pressure pills and all the other drugs that are taken for life.

Davies’s recommendation that antibiotic resistance should be put in the national risk register is very reasonable. It could even be said that there is a better case for it to be there than an influenza pandemic, which tops the current list, because our ability to prevent flu by vaccines and antivirals, and the outcomes of treatment, are improving all the time, whereas for antibiotic resistance a pessimistic policy is the only prudent one.


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