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Beware the antibiotic apocalypse

Posting in Technology

Get a sore throat. Meet this guy.

There's a dire warning coming out of the U.K. that makes global warming look like child's play: Common infections are going to wipe us out, because bacteria is developing an insurmountable resistance to antibiotics and there is little current likelihood of successfully modifying existing drugs.

"There is a broken market model for making new antibiotics, so it's an empty pipeline," England's chief medical officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, told Parliament, as reported by the BBC yesterday.

With a sense of the grim reaper, Davies explained that bacterial bugs naturally develop resistance to the antibiotics that attack them, but the way we have used drugs - she has warned previously against overuse - has exacerbated that process. "As they become resistant...there will not be new antibiotics," she said.

Davies warned two months ago that overuse of antibiotics is making them ineffective. Her language this time was indisputably ominous.

"The apocalyptic scenario is that when I need a new hip in 20 years I'll die from a routine infection because we've run out of antibiotics," she said. "It's very serious because we are not using our antibiotics effectively."

The World Health Organization concurs. "Many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, kill unabated," it has said.

Hugh Pennington, a microbiology professor from the University of Aberdeen, shares those concerns. He called drug resistance "a very, very serious problem," and noted that, "We have to be aware that we aren't going to have new wonder drugs coming along because there just aren't any."

Among the diseases already flashing deadly fangs is gonorrhea, for which there is only one remaining antibiotic, chief medical officer Davies said. The story also singles out E.coli and tuberculosis.

But don't take up residence in a plastic bubble quite yet. Davies will publish "possible solutions" in March.

Meanwhile, have a jolly weekend. For goodness sake though, don't get a sore throat, and be careful when slicing vegetables.

Image: Iconwallstickers.co.uk

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— By on January 24, 2013, 8:58 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure