Australian health authorities are warning the world faces a post-antibiotic era where simple childhood illnesses could again become deadly.
The death of a woman in the United States in January from an infection that could not be treated by any antibiotics has left Australian health experts “deeply alarmed”.
In a strongly worded editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia, president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, Professor Cheryl Jones, said the woman’s death “may herald a post-antibiotic era in which high-level antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is widespread, meaning that common pathogens will be untreatable”.
She said if that happened, all areas of healthcare would be affected.
“Simple childhood infections would once again be life-threatening events, major surgery would be associated with high mortality, chemotherapy for cancer and organ transplantation would no longer be possible,” she said.
Australia has one of the highest rates of antibiotic use in the world.
Antibiotics crackdown must be urgent priority: AMA
While the Federal Government has introduced measures to curb the use of antibiotics, experts said more needed to be done to limit the unrestrained use of antibiotics and to monitor superbugs coming into Australia from international travellers or imported food.
“A list of tangible actions against each of the drivers of antimicrobial resistance, co-ordinated across human and animal health and agriculture, must be an urgent priority,” Professor Jones said.
The Australian Medical Association has called for the urgent establishment of an Australian National Centre for Disease Control, similar to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with a focus on current and emerging disease threats.
Health experts will gather to discuss antibiotic resistance at a summit in Melbourne on June 29.
What are antibiotics?
- Antibiotics are a broad class of drugs that work by inhibiting the function of bacterial cells. They do this by killing the bacteria or stopping them from reproducing — but have no effect on viruses.
- They are used to treat a wide range of bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia or skin infections
- Before antibiotics were discovered in the 1920s, infections were a common cause of death in people of all ages.