Superbugs to become big killer, warns GP

By 2050, death from superbugs will outstrip the number of people dying from a cancer, a Cork GP has warned.

“We know that if we continue on our current trajectory with the way we use antibiotics, by 2050 deaths from superbugs, from antibiotic-resistant infections, are predicted to outstrip cancer deaths,” said Dr Nuala O’Connor.

She was citing brand new research, ‘No Time to Wait’, that has just been published by the UN, that’s called ‘No Time to Wait.’.

“By 2050, that’s 10m deaths worldwide,” said Dr O’Connor, who was speaking at the Irish College of General Practitioners’ (ICGP) annual conference yesterday.

Dr O’Connor is the ICGP’s lead adviser on antibiotic resistance.

She said it does not matter how healthy a person is, or how few times they have used antibiotics, the issue is that the bugs are becoming resistant to the antibiotics that we have developed.

Bugs have been around for millions of years, they’ve been surviving for millions of years. Antibiotics have only been around since 1945, so bugs are very clever.

"They just worked out a way to fight back and the way they fight back is they develop resistance.

“A lot of people say ‘I never use antibiotics myself’. They’ll say ‘I’m fine’. No, you’re not fine. Because it’s not that you become resistant to antibiotics, it’s the bug becomes resistant,” said Dr O’Connor.

These superbugs are bacteria that develop resistance to most of the commonly used antibiotics.

They develop the resistance in their genes, store it in their genetic code, and then share that information with other bugs.

Dr O’Connor said that if you get infected with one of these superbugs you will become much sicker than, compared with when you have other infections.

“If you get an infection from a superbug you will get much sicker, there is a much higher risk that you will die from that infection, and the other thing that people don’t grasp is that anybody can become infected with a superbug infection.

“So what happens is they get into your system and they tend to cause more serious infections like a bad chest infection, that you’d be sick enough that you’d need to be in hospital.

"They can also get into your blood stream and cause sepsis. They get into your urinary tract and up into your bladder and kidneys,” said the GP.

The bugs often spread in hospitals when certain patients’ immune systems are suppressed.

The key way to fight the rise of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria is through “prudent use” of antibiotics and by stopping the spread of them in the first place.

We kept developing new types of antibiotics and then the bugs started to develop resistance so we know that every time we use an antibiotic, resistance starts to develop within the bug and then they share that with the bug.

“We need to only use antibiotics when they’re needed because we know that use of antibiotics drives resistance,” said Dr O’Connor.

She also advises people to do is to follow good hand hygiene, because “clean hands save lives”. This extends to people coughing into their elbow when they are sick as opposed to into their hands, which can spread germs.

She advises the public to make use of the GP-led HSE website which lets people check common symptoms of coughs and colds against the best form of treatment.

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