If the apocalypse is coming, it’s likely to be propelled by a superbug. According to a new study by Lancet Infectious Diseases, scientists have observed a gene mutation that can move between bacteria and which renders the drug Colistin – the last line of defence we have against bacteria, and reserved for only the deadliest infections – entirely useless.
Colistin, a polymyxin drug, isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Since it’s known to produce kidney damage, it’s only used in desperate circumstances. In China, the drug isn’t approved for human use. However, Chinese pig farmers quickly discovered that administering Colistin to their pigs could fatten them up significantly – leading to higher profits.
High-yield, high-profit pig farming in China is the world’s greatest consumer of Colistin, amassing 12,000 tonnes of the drug a year. Its use is officially restricted, but according to the Lancet, the resistant gene MCR-1 was discovered in 15 per cent of meat samples and 21 per cent of animals tested between 2011 and 2014. The study also observed that the gene responsible for drug resistance had transferred to 16 human patients.
Pig farming plays an important part in Chinese economy. Pork production is so essential to growth that pro-pork policies have been instituted including grants and tax incentives. Overall, the Chinese government subsidised pork production by $22 billion in 2012. The industry is not about to make an about turn now.
Health news in pictures
Health news in pictures
1/10 Health apps approved by NHS 'may put users at risk of identity theft'
Experts have warned that some apps do not adequately protect personal information
2/10 The vegetables that 'could be making people overweight'
Potatoes have emerged as a potential vegetable that could make people gain weight, due to their high starch and low water content
3/10 A watchdog has said that care visits must last longer
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said home help visits of less than 30 minutes were not acceptable unless part of a wider package of support.
2015 Getty Images
4/10 Pendle in Lancashire tops list of five most anxious places to live in the UK
Pendle in Lancashire has been named the most anxious place to live in the UK, while people living in Fermanagh and Omagh in Northern Ireland have been found to be the happiest.
5/10 Ketamine could be used as anti-depressant
Researchers at the University of Auckland said monitoring the effects of the drug on the brain has revealed neural pathways that could aid the development of fast-acting medications. Ketamine is a synthetic compound used as an off anaesthetic and analgesic drug, but is commonly used illegally as a hallucinogenic party drug. Dr Suresh Muthukumaraswamy, a senior researcher at the university and a member of the institution’s Centre for Brain Research, used the latest technology in brain imaging to investigate what mechanisms ketamine uses to be active in the human brain
6/10 A prosthetic hand that lets people actually feel through
The technology lets paralysed people feel actual sensations when touching objects — including light taps on the mechanical finger — and could be a huge breakthrough for prosthetics, according to its makers. The tool was used to let a 28-year-old man who has been paralysed for more than a decade. While prosthetics have previously been able to be controlled directly from the brain, it is the first time that signals have been successfully sent the other way
7/10 The biggest cause of early death in the world is what you eat
Unhealthy eating has been named as the most common cause of premature death around the globe, new data has revealed. A poor diet – which involves eating too few vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains and too much red meat, salt and sugar - was shown to be a bigger killer than smoking and alcohol
2012 Getty Images
8/10 Scientists develop blood test that estimates how quickly people age
Scientists believe it could be used to predict a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as well as the “youthfulness” of donated organs for transplant operations. The test measures the vitality of certain genes which the researchers believe is an accurate indication of a person’s “biological age”, which may be younger or older than their actual chronological age
2006 Getty Images
9/10 Aspirin could help boost therapies that fight cancer
The latest therapies that fight cancer could work better when combined with aspirin, research has suggested. Scientists from the Francis Crick Institute in London say the anti-inflammatory pain killer suppresses a cancer molecule that allows tumours to evade the body’s immune defences. Laboratory tests have shown that skin, breast and bowel cancer cells often generate large amounts of this molecule, called prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). But Aspirin is one of a family of drugs that sends messages to the brain to block production of PGE2 and this means cancer cells can be attacked by the body’s natural defences
Copyright (c) 2014 Rex Features. No use without permission.
10/10 Take this NHS test to find out if you have a cancerous mole
An interactive test could help flag up whether you should seek advice from a health professional for one of the most common types of cancer. The test is available on the NHS Choices website and reveals whether you are at risk from the disease and recommends if you should seek help. The mole self-assessment factors in elements such as complexion, the number of times you have been severely sunburnt and whether skin cancer runs in your family. It also quizzes you on the number of moles you have and whether there have been any changes in appearance regarding size, shape and colour
Copyright (c) 2003 Rex Features. No use without permission.
Yet it is the developed world’s over reliance on industrial scale meat farming, and the abuse of essential drugs designed to keep us safe from the deadliest bacteria to improve profits, that are is to blame for the crisis of antibiotic resistance that we now face. And the more you expose yourself to meat, the greater the risk that you could be exposed to resistant bacteria and the gene mutation that causes it. So the only way that we can tackle antibiotic resistance now, and prevent the terrifying prospect of entering a post-antibiotic world, is to think differently about what how we eat.
We must reduce our reliance on the meat industry for this very reason. Get your protein from soy, beans and nuts. Trade a pork rind for a crisp. We must radically reimagine our palate if we hope to use antibiotics to cure bacterial strains and species – including deadly strains such as E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa - for years to come.
A change in eating habits will always be hard to digest, but the only alternative is to head blindly towards a future in which doctors, when confronted with an infection due to the growing strains of resistant bacteria, will be forced to say: “Sorry, but there’s really nothing I can do.”Reuse content