Scientists are warning that the antibiotic-resistant gene mcr-1 has the potential to spread quickly on a global scale.
Experts have called for a “cultural shift” around antibiotic use in Australia after the discovery of an antibiotic-resistant gene that could render infections incurable.
The mcr-1 gene is resistant to colistin, a ‘last-resort’ antibiotic used to treat infections that resist all other antibiotics.
The discovery was made at the South China Agricultural University in November.
E.coli, salmonella and pneumonia are among the list of infections that could become incurable if the spread of mcr-1 continues.
Professor of Infectious Diseases at the Australian National University Dr Peter Collignon believes the discovery should be a wake-up call for Australia.
“We need to rethink our philosophy with antibiotics, it’s just not sustainable,” he said.
Dr Collignon attributes the overuse of antibiotics to the emergence of these resistant genes.
“If we continue to use antibiotics inappropriately, it will come back to bite us,” he said.
Since publicising the discovery, a global search for the gene has already revealed cases in Denmark that include a human carrier as well as several poultry samples.
The gene is capable of passing between bacteria and the identical samples in Denmark and China suggest that it has already begun to spread.
The potential for this gene to spread quickly on a global scale has been warned by experts.
“History shows that these mobile resistance genes can spread around the world quickly, silently riding in people, animals and food,” said Dr Lance Price, head of George Washington University’s Antibiotic Resistance Action Center.
“We must act swiftly to contain the spread of colistin-resistant bacteria, or we will face increasing numbers of untreatable infections,” Dr Price said.
CEO of NPS MedicineWise Dr Lynn Weekes has said that if we don’t change the way we use antibiotics in Australia, we risk returning to a “post-antibiotic era in medicine”.
“If bacterial infections cannot be treated with antibiotics that could mean that common infections and minor injuries can kill and the risk associated with even the most straight-forward surgeries will increase,” Dr Weekes said. “Unless we dramatically reduce antibiotic prescribing when they’re not needed, for example for viral infections like colds and flu, we are looking to a future where antibiotics no longer work,” she said.