Superbug situation in Europe 'critical'12th April 2011
Within the EU, the number of superbug infections requiring powerful antibiotics has reached an unprecedented level, according to a recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO said that the worldwide spread of untreatable infections, a so-called nightmare scenario, could not be avoided without the concerted effort of many countries.
Zsuzsanna Jakab, regional director for the WHO's European region, said that antibiotics were a precious discovery, but that she believed humans took them for granted, overusing and misusing them.
She said that, given the growth of travel and trade in Europe and across the world, she believed people should be aware that countries needed to unite across borders to ensure people's safety.
One of the superbugs in question, the so-called New Delhi superbug, also known as NDM-1, is able to resist carbapenem antibiotics, a supercharged drug that was formerly a last resort against intractable infections.
Last August, researchers first learned of the existence of the superbug.
Technically speaking, NDM-1 is a gene, not a bacterium.
However, the NDM-1 gene, which can be freely passed between various types of bacteria, specifically codes for an enzyme able to break down antibiotics as if they were food.
Some people brought NDM-1 back with them from India and Pakistan after seeking treatment in those countries, and researchers recently reported finding NDM-1 in New Delhi tap water.
As such, perhaps 500,000 people in New Delhi are currently carrying NDM-1, meaning that the gene may spark unexpected illnesses across the globe.
As such, several major drug companies are hoping to step up with new drugs capable of eliminating bacteria that incorporate the NDM-1 enzyme, including GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said that people who travelled to India and Pakistan without seeking hospital treatment only had a minimal risk of getting infected with something carrying NDM-1.
In the past 30 years, only a few new types of antibiotics have been discovered by scientists.
AstraZeneca chief executive David Brennan said he believed people should recognise that, even if the total number of available antibiotics could be increased, those new drugs would eventually also lose their effectiveness.
In the EU, superbugs cause about 400,000 infections a year, costing a total of €1.5 billion.
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