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Scientist sounds superbug scare

March 02, 2005 18:51 IST
A leading American scientist has warned that the world may run out of effective antibiotics by the end of this decade and that it could take at least five years before new drugs can be developed to combat superbugs, reports The Telegraph, London.

"Frankly, most governments are asleep at the switch," the paper quoted Dr George Poste, Director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and an advisor to the US president, as saying.

There will be a "window of vulnerability" from 2010 to 2015 when the toll of the superbug will reach its peak as a result of antibiotic resistance, he said. "We are facing a relentless increase in antibiotic resistance across all classes of drug."

'The superbugs of most concern are strains of MRSA, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus,' The Telegraph said. 'Last week, it emerged that deaths caused by MRSA in British hospitals have doubled in four years to almost 1,000 a year.'

"If we think we have problems today, the problems at the end of the decade will be that much more dramatic," Poste told The Telegraph. "We are facing serious challenges."

"Some strains are now resistant to all common antibiotics - penicillin, cephalosporin, methicillin and its cousin flucloxacillin - as a result of overprescribing of antibiotics, their use in animal feeds, and poor infection control in hospitals compared with measures used in the days before penicillin," he said.

Some MRSA strains were even resistant to the "antibiotic of last resort", vancomycin, he pointed out. "Once you have an increasing prevalence of vancomycin resistant Staph, you have limited therapeutic options for those patients."

The situation was further compounded by the fact that half a dozen leading manufacturers of antibiotics have given up developing new types, since they are unable to profit much from the development of variants on the theme of a given class of antibiotic, he said.

Aside from doing more to reinstate old fashioned infection control, more has to be done to encourage drug companies to create novel classes of antibiotic, The Telegraph quoted him as saying.