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Antibiotic Resistance: The End of Modern Medicine?

Antibiotic Resistance: The End of Modern Medicine?


The prediction is that, without urgent action, by 2025 we could see a return to the pre-antibiotic era when a simple stubbed toe could mean amputation or death. – Siouxsie Wiles

The latest edition to the BWB Texts series is a modern horror story. In this slim volume, Antibiotic Resistance: The End of Modern Medicine, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles assembles a compelling array of evidence to suggest that unless we change our ways and the increasing, often unnecessary, use of antibiotics, and invest rapidly in the search for new anti-microbial agents, we are going to die in ever increasing numbers from afflictions both grave and incidental.

She is not alone. As Wiles writes matter-of-factly in this persuasive call to action, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, has called antimicrobial resistance ‘the end of modern medicine as we know it’. In a series of reports commissioned by then British Prime Minister David Cameron, economist Lord O’Neill has estimated that without urgent action, antimicrobial resistance will kill 10 million people a year by 2050 – more than will die from cancer.

Far from being at the forefront of the war against microbes, Wiles suggests New Zealand is in many respects a laggard – and given our comparatively high rates of infection this is a status we can ill-afford. In 2013, over two-thirds of our infectious disease hospitalisations were for bacterial infections. Our rates of Staphylococcus aureus are the highest in the developed world. Streptococcus pyogenes, a group A strep, which can sometimes digest human flesh, causing necrotising fasciitis, is also prevalent. By world standards our rates of rheumatic fever are shocking.

Add to this list increasingly free-range organisms like Giardia, Salmonella, Yersinia, Cryptosporidium, toxin-producing Escherichia coli, rotavirus, norovirus, hepatitis A, Leptospira, and Listeria and a truly frightening picture of bacterial anarchy begins to emerge. Not to mention Camphylobacter jejuni, the water-borne culprit responsible for the recent illness of up to 5,530, and suspected death of two, of Havelock North’s residents.

Antibiotic Resistance is a credible and often alarming contribution to a subject that has until now not achieved the urgent attention it deserves in this country. As Professor Kurt L Krause, Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases, University of Otago, says:

“This is an important new book on the pressing issue of anti-microbial resistance. Engagingly written, well informed and provocative, it is a clear call to action for New Zealanders on one of the most critical issues we face.’’


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