Scientists are increasingly concerned about the impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which makes routine antibiotics or antivirals drugs ineffective against diseases that have formerly been brought under control.
David Cameron has warned that such a scenario would see the world “cast back into the dark ages of medicine”.
The new figures are given in the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies, a document compiled by the Cabinet Office that assesses the challenges posed by terrorism, disease, natural disasters and industrial strife.
For the first time, it contains an assessment of the dangers posed by AMR, which it describes as a “particularly serious” issue for the UK.
The document says: “Without effective antibiotics, even minor surgery and routine operations could become high-risk procedures, leading to increased duration of illness and ultimately premature mortality. Much of modern medicine, for example organ transplantation, bowel surgery and some cancer treatments may become unsafe due to the risk of infection. In addition, influenza pandemics would become more serious without effective treatments.”
It adds: “The number of infections complicated by AMR are expected to increase markedly over the next 20 years. If a widespread outbreak were to occur, we could expect around 200,000 people to be affected by a bacterial blood infection that could not be treated effectively with existing drugs, and around 80,000 of these might die.
“High numbers of deaths could also be expected from other forms of antimicrobial resistant infection.”
Already, there are no longer any effective drugs against one strain of E.coli, a bacterial infection that can prove lethal.
Analysts have also looked at the potential casualties from an increasing drug resistance in Klebsiella pneumonia, a form of bacterial pneumonia, and Staphylococcus aureus, a skin infection, as well as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
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