A new AIDS epidemic could be just the beginning of an apocalyptic-type increase in the number of antibiotic-resistant diseases. That’s the latest warning from Professor Jeremy Farrar, one of the world’s leading authorities on infectious diseases.
“It is not unreasonable that a HIV pandemic could return,” Farrar told the UK newspaper The Independent. “The possibility of a resistantly-driven HIV pandemic is quite real.”
Farrar is a professor of tropical medicine at Oxford University and director of the Welcome Trust, one of the world’s largest research organizations.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, soon could develop resistance to the antiviral drugs that control it and allow some victims to lead normal lives, Farrar predicted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that around 47,500 people became infected with HIV in the United States in 2010.
Just the Tip of the Iceberg?
But a drug-resistant AIDS could be just the tip of the iceberg. In a recent article in the journal Nature, Farrar wrote that that a “post-antibiotic world” in which diseases spread unchecked could soon become a reality.
“Drugs that were once lifesavers are now worthless,” Farrar and Mark Woolhouse wrote. “Every class of antibiotic is increasingly compromised by resistance, as are many antivirals, anti-parasitic and antifungal drugs.”
Woolhouse is a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Some of the highlights of Nature article include:
- “HIV is increasingly resistant to first-line antiviral drugs.”
- “Chloramphenicol, once a physician’s first choice against typhoid, is no longer effective in many parts of the world.”
- “Strains of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), multidrug-resistant Escherichia coli and Klebsiellapneumoniae are serious threats to public health.”
- “Plasmodium falciparum (the parasite that causes the most dangerous form of malaria) is developing resistance to all known classes of antimalarial drug, threatening the remarkable progress that has been made against the disease.”
- Drug-resistant strains of MRSA, tuberculosis, malaria and HIV are spreading around the world.
Britain’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, actually labeled the situation “apocalyptic” and it is easy to see why.
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Two million Americans are already infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Around 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant infections each year, the CDC estimated.
Around 4.6 of the patients in the US medical system are infected with one of the nastiest antibiotic resistant bacteria strains of MRSA, Forbes writer Paul Rodgers noted.
- Antibiotics are routinely sold over the counter and even in street markets in some countries. That means sick people can take as many of them as they want.
- Antibiotic use which stimulates the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is increasing dramatically in developing countries. Farrar noted that antibiotic sales in Egypt tripled between 2005 and 2010 and increased five times in India in the same period.
- Only a few countries have policies to combat overuse of antibiotics in place.
- Pharmaceutical companies are not developing new antibiotics because they cannot make money from them. “Drug development is risky, and antibiotics do not generate as much revenue as drugs for chronic conditions do,” Farrar and Woolhouse wrote. “Drug companies find that research in other diseases is a better return on investment.”
New epidemics and pandemics could be just the start of the nightmare in the post-antibiotic world, Farrar and Woolhouse predicted.
“It could get worse: routine medical care, surgery, cancer treatment, organ transplants and industrialized agriculture would be impossible in their present form without antimicrobials [antibiotic drugs],” they wrote. “And the treatment of many infectious human and livestock diseases now relies on just one or two drugs.”
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