Surgery could soon become deadly
The Australian Society for Microbiologists also called for more funding to develop new antibiotics. Photo: Glenn Hunt
Superbugs could soon make routine surgical procedures deadly for healthy people if authorities do not start introducing measures to tackle them, doctors say.
The warning comes as England's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, called for worldwide action to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria that she said posed a ''catastrophic threat'' to human health that should be likened to terrorism.
In submissions to a current Australian Senate inquiry into the problem, microbiologists and infectious disease experts called for better cleaning of hospitals and more testing of animals and food.
Head of infectious diseases at the Austin Hospital Professor Lindsay Grayson said if authorities did not move to contain existing superbugs and prevent the emergence of new ones over the next three to five years, infections would increase dramatically.
While superbugs were already a routine daily feature of healthcare for many, Professor Grayson said if nothing was done, they would become the norm in coming years, especially for immuno-compromised patients such as transplant recipients, sick infants and those being treated for cancer.
Although it is currently unusual for healthy people to fall ill with superbug infections, he said urinary tract infections were increasingly becoming difficult to treat. Five years ago, he said, about 5 per cent of such infections among Victorian women were resistant to many antibiotics - now it was more than 20 per cent.
''[Urinary tract] infections were something previously GPs could easily manage,'' he said. ''Now we're increasingly seeing them resistant to all the antibiotic tablets available and we're having to use intravenous antibiotics … Even then, we're very restricted in terms of which ones will work.''
Proliferation of the bugs could also make routine surgery, particularly bowel surgery, potentially deadly for people.
"The problem is here, it is present and real. We must control it,'' Professor Grayson said.
In submissions to the Senate inquiry, experts called for:
- National standards for both hospital cleaning and the insertion of invasive devices such as IV drips and catheters.
- Better hospital design to limit spread of bugs in shared toilets.
- Enhanced surveillance of imported food for multi-drug resistant bacteria and antibiotic residues, particularly seafood.
- More strict controls on antibiotic use in agriculture
- Better prescription training for doctors.
The Australian Society for Microbiologists also called for more funding to develop new antibiotics, saying the global pharmaceutical industry had ''dropped the ball'' in favour of making other, more profitable drugs.
Greens senator Richard Di Natale - a medical doctor who instigated the inquiry - said he was hopeful a new government steering committee, with senior bureaucrats, the chief medical officer and chief veterinary officer on it, would help relieve the problem.