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Scientists warn global response needed to stop superbug risks

THE rise of superbugs which can defeat modern medicine needs an organised global response on the same scale as efforts to tackle climate change, according to two leading scientists.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, of Edinburgh University, warns that unless there is an international drive to address the problem, simple infections that have been treatable for decades could become deadly diseases.

Professor Woolhouse, writing with Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of research charity the Wellcome Trust, in the online edition of the journal Nature says already drugs "that were once lifesavers are now worthless".

They both call for the creation of an international panel - like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the growing range of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and other medicines.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, from Edinburgh University's Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution, said: "The time has come to stop re-stating the problems of antimicrobial resistance and start taking action. We need independent, international leadership on this issue before the massive health gains that have been made since Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin are lost forever."

Concerns about the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been expressed by scientists for many years. Professor Woolhouse and Dr Farrar describe the international response so far as "feeble".

The say: "The World Health Organisation missed the opportunity to provide leadership on what is urgently needed to really make a difference.

"What is required is committed and coordinated action on the root causes of resistance: the misuse of antimicrobials, the paucity of development of new drugs and the lack of alternatives."

There has been a crackdown on the prescribing of antibiotics in Scotland in a bid to prevent the evolution of superbugs and a five-year strategy to tackle the problem was agreed across the UK nations last year. The quantity of antibiotics handed out by GPs in Scotland has fallen significantly since the mid-1990s, but began to climb again in recent years. The use of antibiotics in hospitals was up 6.2% in 2012, compared to 2011.

Professor Woolhouse said genuine efforts had been made to reign in antibiotic use among people and animals in the UK, but it had had "very limited impact". He also said it would never be enough for the UK to act alone as "we know from a huge number of studies that resistance spreads very easily and rapidly around the world".

A new superbug resistant to the most powerful antibiotics available - known as NDM-1 producing E.coli - was contracted in Scotland for the first time in 2012. It is thought to have initially been imported to the UK by patients who had been treated abroad.

Most countries are yet to launch programmes to tackle drug resistance, according to the Nature article.

Dr Aileen Keel, Scotland's Acting Chief Medical Officer, said: "Antimicrobial resistance is a global problem - national and international action is needed to improve treatment, education and monitoring. Bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, leaving us facing serious problems in the future."

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