Devastating effects of antibiotic overuse strike Europe as ‘superbugs’ develop resistance to last-line antibiotics

Monday, November 25, 2013
By Paul Martin

by: Jonathan Benson
Sunday, November 24, 2013

The most powerful class of antibiotics known to man appears to be losing its ability to fight deadly infections in Europe, says the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). A recent announcement by this European Union (EU) monitoring agency warns that carbapenems, an extremely powerful class of antibiotics typically used as a last resort when all else fails, are simply no match to the many emerging “superbugs” that have developed resistance to them.

This latest round of warnings, which follows several years’ worth of previous warnings, draws fresh attention to the continued overuse and misuse of antibiotics all around the world. With each passing year, more and more infection types are failing to respond to carbapenems, which means that all available conventional options for treating and defeating them have basically been exhausted. ECDC also says there has been a sharp uptick in resistance rates just within the past four years, especially in Southern Europe.

“Carbapenems are the last-line class of antibiotics, so the situation is really worrying,” says ECDC director Marc Sprenger. “Since 2009, it has become increasingly common for hospitals to be faced with treating patients that have carbapenem-resistant infections, often meaning that old and toxic drugs are used.”

According to the latest data gathered by ECDC, almost every European country now has documented cases of carbapenem-resistant infections at hospitals. In some areas of Southern and Eastern Europe, including in Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia, as many as 5 percent of Klebsiella pneumoniae infections are resistant. And as for the Acinetobacter bacteria, as many as 25 percent of infections in at least eight of the 18 reporting countries are resistant.

“We need to find ways to use valuable antimicrobial drugs more wisely and to develop new drugs and treatments,” says Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science.

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