Seabed becomes the new focus for Antibiotics


Organisations, such as the Health Protection Agency and NICE - the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, as well as the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control, together with the government, have long warned that the widespread and unrestrained use of antibiotics when they are not necessary will increase resistance to them and will mean that, eventually, antibiotics might not be as effective or simply won't work anymore. Already there are multiple drug resistant bacteria which have resulted in incurable strains of such diseases as tuberculosis, pneumonia, dysentery, cholera, and malaria. This is all the more worrying as there have been no completely new antibiotics registered for the last 10 years.

Prescription anti-biotics

In the circumstances, a team of scientists are mining the seabed in the hope that they will find new marine species such as bacteria and viruses that are able to survive in extreme conditions. It is hoped that if the project is successful then new antibiotics could be available within the next 10 years.

There is, however, another side to this story that is worth considering. Although the impact is likely to be too low to be of any threat at the moment, researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden are considering how communities of bacteria in sediment and clay on the seabed are affected by exposure to current antibiotics and whether this ‘contamination’ is a threat to human and/or marine life. It is reported that 10,000 tonnes of antibiotics are consumed in Europe each year, and that 30-60% pass through animals and humans completely unchanged. The different substances then reach the ocean via hospitals, municipal sewage, fish farms and run-off from agriculture and landfills. This in turn will impact upon our environment and resources.

Despite the arguments about antibiotic resistance, it is sometimes the case that a doctor or other healthcare professional may fail to appreciate, or identify, that there is a risk of infection, either localised or systemic and wrongly conclude that no specific treatment is required.

For example there may be a:

  • Failure to carry out a proper examination
  • Failure to observe and analyse the signs and symptoms of a condition
  • Failure to carry out specific tests such as blood tests

Such failures may result in the doctor not prescribing antibiotics when it is appropriate or necessary to do so which can have catastrophic consequences and result in fatality.

This article was written by Helen Donaghy, Medical Negligence Team.

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