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World on brink of post-antibiotic resistance era
The report published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases identified bacteria resistant to the antibiotic colistin in patients and livestock. The resistance likely came into being after colistin was overused in farm animals.
Evidence suggests that the new mutation has spread to Laos and Malaysia. As such, the report warns that the rest of the world could now be at risk of raising the barrier to untreatable infections.
Professor Timothy Walsh from the University of Cardiff, who collaborated on the study, told the BBC: “All the key players are now in place to make the post-antibiotic world a reality.
“If MRC-1 becomes global, which is a case of when not if, and the gene aligns itself with other antibiotic resistance genes, which is inevitable, then we will have very likely reached the start of the post-antibiotic era.
“At that point if a patient is seriously ill, say with E. coli, then there is virtually nothing you can do.”
The ‘antibiotic apocalypse’
Complete bacterial resistance to treatment meant common infections would kill again, while antibiotic reliant surgeries and cancer therapies would be at risk.
The new mutation, dubbed the MCR-1 gene, was identified by Chinese scientists. It prevented colistin from killing bacteria. The report in the Lancet Infectious Diseases also demonstrated resistance in a fifth of animals tested, 15% of raw meat samples and in 16 patients.
And, according to scientists, the resistance had spread between a range of bacterial strains and species, including E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Resistance to colistin has emerged before
Whilst resistance to colistin has emerged in the past, Professor Mark Wilcox explained that the difference this time is the “transfer rate of this resistance gene is ridiculously high”.
“That doesn’t look good,” Prof Wilcox, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said in comments to the BBC.
“Do I fear we’ll get to an untreatable organism situation? Ultimately yes. Whether that happens this year, or next year, or the year after, it’s very hard to say.”
Professor Laura Piddock, from the campaign group Antibiotic Action, urged against using the same antibiotics “in veterinary and human medicine”.
Speaking to the BBC News, she expressed “hope” that the post-antibiotic era is not upon us yet.
“However,” she added, “this is a wake-up call to the world.”
The most recent warnings come shortly after industry experts published an open letter calling on the UK government to implement a new economic model to fund antibiotic research.
Failure to change would have a “terrible human cost”, it warned.