Australian health experts warn about antibiotic overuse

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A sample bottle containing E. coli bacteria is seen at the Health Protection Agency in north London March 9, 2011. Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

Health authorities in Australia have warned that the world is facing a post-antibiotic era where a simple childhood illnesses could lead to death.  In the United States, one woman died after she acquired an infection that could not be treated by any antibiotics.  The incident left Australian health experts to be "deeply alarmed.”

Professor Cheryl Jones, president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, said in an editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia that the woman’s death “may herald a post-antibiotic era in which high-level antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is widespread, meaning that common pathogens will be untreatable.” She explained that all areas of healthcare would be affected if that occurred.

Experts pointed that more should be done to reduce the unrestrained use of antibiotics and also to supervise superbugs coming into the country from international travellers or imported food.  Jones urged that urgent priorities must include a list of tangible actions against the drivers of antimicrobial resistance which will be co-ordinated across human and animal health and agriculture. The Federal Government has launched the Australian AMR Prevention and Containment Steering Group and released the first National AMR strategy in June 2015.

Jones said the challenge now lies in moving the plan into a lifesaving action. She stressed that the per capita consumption of antibiotics by people in Australia is one of the highest in the world. Additionally, she said Australians must reduce antibiotic use not only in humans, but also in animals. “To have an impact on AMR, we will need to address all its drivers in Australia in humans, animals and agriculture,” Jones wrote.

She said there should be a better definition of the impact of AMR through co-ordinated national surveillance.  The impact of AMR should be communicated to the community.

Childhood infections, even the simple types, would again be life-threatening conditions and major surgery would be linked to high mortality. Jones warned that chemotherapy for cancer and organ transplantation would no longer be possible in the future.

ABC reported that the Australian Medical Association has called for the urgent establishment of an Australian National Centre for Disease Control which can be likened to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It focuses on budding disease threats.  Health experts are set to come together for a summit in Melbourne on June 29 to discuss about antibiotic resistance. According to, the summit is specifically aimed at drafting an action plan on the superbug threat.

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