On the 21st of September, 2016, the United Nations General Assembly had devoted a session to the problem of antibiotic resistance, calling the rulers of all nations to face this real emergency.
The Assembly called for specific health policies to solve this serious threat, urging to invest in research on the future antibiotics.
We spoke to Dr. Alberto Mantovani, Scientific Director of the Clinical Institute of Humanitas and professor of Humanitas University. Dr. Mantovani also hosts the show Waiting Geo on Italian station Rai 3.
Why is resistance to antibiotics one of the most dangerous threats to public health?
It is estimated that deaths linked to resistance to antibiotics are 700,000 globally and 30,000 in Europe alone.
The threat is current, but also part of the future. According to a scientific study, commissioned by the British government, it is assumed that there will be ten million deaths per year by 2050, due to this resistance.
What diseases are likely to become incurable?
Some diseases, such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections are caused by specific strains of bacteria that are capable of destroying antibiotics, causing sepsis, ie a generalized infection of the organism. Sepsis can not be fought with current antibiotics and thus leads, in most cases, to a fatal outcome.
What can be done at national and global level, to counter these antibiotic-resistant bacteria?
The governments of individual countries should promote research to identify new antibiotics and to understand the mechanisms by which the body in some cases finds it difficult to eradicate or control the drug-resistant strains, while in other cases succumbs to their attack completely.
We must understand this mechanism to develop new and fundamental immunological weapons.
It is also essential to use antibiotics wisely. This applies both to the doctors, medical personnel, and patients. Taking antibiotics to treat trivial influenza-like illness or a common cold means fostering the emergence of resistant strains.
Then we have a problem of indiscriminate use of antibiotics in animal husbandry, where we record many antibiotic-resistant strains.
When we use antibiotics incorrectly, i.e because we have a fever for a couple of days we hurt ourselves because we damage the microbes that help our immune system.
Particularly susceptible are weaker parties such as patients who have undergone a bone marrow transplant.
What role do vaccines play in this historic phase of global health?
Vaccines are already helping, but they will do even more in the future when there will be vaccines available against resistant strains.
Through recent work carried out in Africa, we know that introducing vaccines like that against meningococcus, which is recommended for people over 60-65 years is reducing the incidence of resistant strains against meningococcus.
Similarly, the flu shot prevents weakening of our immune system, caused by the influenza virus, and the subsequent indiscriminate use of antibiotics.
The reduction of vaccinations recorded last year, has increased the number of deaths from influenza. Remember that these are not deaths directly related to the influenza but to uncontrolled bacterial infections.
What point is the research at right now?
We must invent and discover new antibiotics. It is now almost 30 years since the last classes of antibiotics were introduced. Finally, we need to research the immune system that helps us identify patients at risk and to identify new immune weapons.