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The “Post-Antibiotic” Era?

After finding bacteria resistant to drugs, scientists have warned that the world is on the verge of a “post-antibiotic era”.  The researchers have identified a bacteria that can shrug off colistin, typically a drug of last resort, in patients and livestock in China.  According to the researchers, resistance would spread around the world, raising the fear of untreatable infections.  It seems likely that a resistance to antibiotics came from overusing colistin in farm animals.  Such a phenomenon, bacteria becoming completely resistant to treatment, could plunge medicine back into the Dark Ages, and has been dubbed the “antibiotic apocalypse”.  Common infections could have the potential to kill again, and medical procedures that rely on antibiotics would be under threat as well.

AntibioticsChinese scientists identified a new mutation, known as the “MCR-1 gene”, that prevented colistin from killing bacteria.  The report showed resistance in a fifth of animals tested, 15% of raw meat samples and in 16 patients.  The resistance spread between a variety of bacterial strains and species, and there’s evidence that it’s spread to Laos and Malaysia.  According to one researcher involved in the study, this is the first step of the post-antibiotic era.  Other experts, including Prof Laura Piddock of Antibiotic Action, say that the post-antibiotic era isn’t necessarily upon us yet, although this should serve as a “wake-up call” for how we handle antibiotics.

While resistance to colistin has emerged before, this time the mutation has emerged in a way that makes it very easy to share between bacteria.  There is a concern that the new resistance gene will hook up with others that plague hospitals, which would lead to “pan-resistance”, or bacteria resistant to all treatment.  It seems that the Chinese government is moving fast to address this problem, with discussions already taking place on whether or not colistin should be banned for agricultural use.  There are new drugs in development to delay the so-called “antibiotic apocalypse”, such as teixobactin, but they aren’t yet ready for medical use.  In the meantime, many doctors say that we’re looking at an era where modern medicine will more and more frequently be helpless to cure infections.  If you’d like to learn more about this, you can click here!