Graham Gorrel's Friday On My Mind | OPINION

WORLD Antibiotic Awareness Week is from next Monday (November 13) but before you grimace and say, “no, not another of these fund-raising marketing exercises”, you had better get seriously interested. This is, truly, a life and death issue.

Respected Wagga pharmacist, David Kennedy, speaking to the Rotary Club of Wagga said: “On a recent ABC program about the rise of antibiotic resistance around the world, the statement was made that at present 700,000 people (1600 in Australia) per year die because of developing an infection that is resistant to antibiotics”.

“Already there are three of these strains that have arrived in Australia, mainly from India. Unless new research produces new antibiotics or new antibacterial agents, these death figures could rise to 10 million by 2030”.

Victorian president of the AMA, Dr Lorraine Baker, told The SMH: “the issue about increasing antibiotic resistance does need to be taken seriously, and everyone in the medical profession has a part to play, as does government, in managing this”. The United Kingdom’s chief medical officer declared the threat “every bit as serious as terrorism”. Kennedy said pharmaceutical companies have lost interest in researching new antibacterial agents; first, because of the huge cost, and second, because they only last six to 12 months before resistance is generated, They would rather spend their research on drugs like cholesterol lowering drugs, which patients remain on for life once they start.

Kennedy said: “Society needs to be more aware of the problems, and not expect an antibiotic to cure flu and other viral infections, for antibiotics only kill bacterial infections that they are sensitive to.

A report compiled by Bond University, headed by Professor Chris Del Mar, said the crisis was so acute that “aspects of medical care in Australia could regress to 1930s conditions if the rate of resistance was not curbed soon”.

It was possible that unless curbed, deaths from currently treated infections will overtake total cancer deaths.

Professor Del Mar said: “Without reliable antibiotic effectiveness, procedures such as chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, major surgery such as joint replacement, and invasive diagnostic procedures such as cardiac catheterisation “will become too dangerous to perform”.

Obviously this world threat affects us all; so, what are some of the things we can do to overcome trouble? There are alternative drugs that will usually work just as well as antibiotics that should be discussed with your GP. Pneumococcal and influenza injections are essential.

The spread of respiratory viruses can be effectively controlled by using masks plus good old-fashioned hygiene practices like hand-washing. On a recent cruise we were impressed by hand-washing facilities strategically placed throughout the ship.

Australians seem to believe wearing a mask is sissy in public but in countries like Japan and South Korea the practice is widespread.

This brings us then to Dr Baker’s point about the government’s part in managing the antibiotic resistance crisis not to mention the absolute necessity that things like production, supply and quality of flu vaccines (any vaccine for that matter) is of the highest standards.

Local MPs should be put on notice, too; many older Australians waited weeks for flu shots in recent years.       

GRAHAM GORREL, www.dailyadvertiser.com.au