Doctors in Britain have sounded a new warning over drug-resistant "superbugs," which they claim could undo a century's worth of medical advancements and make seemingly routine surgeries matters of life and death.
In a special editorial published in the British health journal, The Lancet, British government doctors warn that health systems may struggle to cope with the cost of caring for an aging population in what they are calling the "post antibiotic era."
"I am concerned that in 20 years, if I go into hospital for a hip replacement, I could get an infection leading to major complications and possible death, simply because antibiotics no longer work as they do now," Professor John Watson, England's deputy chief medical officer told The Independent on Sunday.
The experts warned in The Lancet that death rates from bacterial infections "might return to those of the early 20th century," adding "Rarely has modern medicine faced such a grave threat. Without antibiotics, treatments from minor surgery to major transplants could become impossible, and health-care costs are likely to spiral as we resort to newer, more expensive antibiotics and sustain longer hospital admissions."
Overprescribing of antibiotics has long been believed to be the main cause of antibiotic resistance, due to the increased opportunity for pathogens to avoid their treatments.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported that at least 2 million people in the United States develop serious bacterial infections that are resistant to one or more types of antibiotics each year, and at least 23,000 die from the infections.
"For organism after organism, we're seeing this steady increase in resistance rates," Dr Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, told Reuters at the time. "We don't have new drugs about to come out of the pipeline. If and when we get new drugs, unless we do a better job of protecting them, we'll lose those, also."
In addition to cutting down on overprescribing, other strategies against antibiotic resistance include improving hospital hygiene and providing the pharmaceutical industry with incentives to work on new antibiotics and alternatives to antibiotics, which are also used in agriculture, fisheries and by veterinarians, further increasing resistance.