Locked in an arms-race with drug resistant bacteria

ARMS RACE: Mutating bacteria could leave us behind before too long.
ARMS RACE: Mutating bacteria could leave us behind before too long. Melanie Keyte

IN THE near future, common and curable illnesses could kill us.

As Global Antibiotics Resistance Awareness Week kicked off on Monday, health professionals around the world are reminding us to take it easy on our medicines, otherwise we could end up much worse off.

Dr Jon Harper of the Queensland Primary Health Network said the science behind antibiotics resistance is based on the idea of "survival of the fittest", and sees bacteria mutate to resist the medications designed to eradicate it.

"As those bacteria are exposed to the antibiotic more often, that is the driver to develop the resistance," he said.

"Then once that resistance strain develops, it lives longer, because it lasts longer against the antibiotics, and that's how the resistant strains grow."

Pharmacy manager at the Sunshine Coast Private Hospital Brett Sweeney said as medical researchers weren't developing new antibiotics at the same rate bacteria were mutating to resist existing medicines, such as penicillin, the future could be frightening.

"It may end up that we're unable to treat infections, which could result in more deaths," he said.

"That's why it's important to preserve the antibiotics we have."

As a GP based in Buderim, Dr Harper said it's everybody's responsibility to take action to prevent an "arms race" between developing new medicines and the increasingly resistant bacteria.

"I think if, as GPs and patients, can start being more open about the problem of antibiotics resistance, that will lead to a lot less subscribing," he said.

"It's important for GPs, who are doing the prescribing, and patients as well [to know about the issue] so there is that open consultation and understanding that taking an antibiotic could actually be a bad option rather than a good one."

Australia has one of the highest prescription rates globally, with around 29 million prescriptions issued each year.

For more information about the issue, visit

Topics:  antibiotics drugs health medicine

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