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Doomwatch report warns of 80,000 superbug deaths

Government forecasters raise concerns over rising rates of antibiotic resistance

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 07 April 2015

Some 200,000 people could fall victim to a bacterial blood infection if there was a widespread outbreak that existing antibiotics could not tackle, according to a government forecast.         

The outbreak could claim some 80,000 lives warns the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies 2015 which has just been published by the Cabinet Office and provides guidance to potential threats such as terrorist attacks, flu pandemics and natural disasters. 

The report says that even routine operations would become high-risk procedures and many elements of modern medicine, such as organ transplants, would be too dangerous.       

It chimes with the views of a succession of chief medical officers, including the present incumbent Dame Sally Davies, who recently warned that antimicrobial resistance was expected to “increase markedly” over the next 20 years and could turn back the clock to the 19th century when infections as a result of routine operations often proved fatal.     

Besides the immediate risks, the new report warned that “high numbers of deaths could also be expected from other forms of antimicrobial resistant infection” (AMR).

“An increasingly serious issue is the development and spread of AMR, which occurs when drugs are no longer effective in treating infections caused by micro-organisms.     

“Without effective antibiotics, even minor surgery and routine operations could become high-risk procedures, leading to increased duration of illness and ultimately premature mortality.   

“Much of modern medicine (for example, organ transplantation, bowel surgery and some cancer treatments) may become unsafe due to the risk of infection.         

“In addition, influenza pandemics would become more serious without effective treatments.”      

The assessment continued: “The numbers of infections complicated by AMR are expected to increase markedly over the next 20 years.        

“If a widespread outbreak were to occur, we could expect around 200,000 people to be affected by a bacterial blood infection that could not be treated effectively with existing drugs, and around 80,000 of these people might die.     

“High numbers of deaths could also be expected from other forms of antimicrobial resistant infection.”  

Politicians and scientists have previously warned of the need to find a cure for infections that have become resistant, with David Cameron stating it was a “very real and worrying threat” that could send medicine “back into the dark ages”.    

A Department of Health spokesman reiterated the views of Dame Sally Davies. She said last year: “The world simply cannot afford not to take action to tackle the alarming rise in resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs we are witnessing at the moment.”

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