Letters: We need a new strategy in the war against bacteria

These letters appear in the Tuesday 29th December edition of The Independent

Independent Voices@IndyVoices
Monday 28 December 2015 19:28

During the past month, disturbing news has spread from China, and now the UK, that one of our very last-resort antibiotics, namely colistin, has become a victim of developing bacterial resistance.

Colistin is a toxic antibiotic and was dumped during the 1970s due to its side effects, but has regained its popularity recently because it was the only chance for many seriously ill patients infected with highly resistant bacteria. However, for a while we have been aware that resistant bacteria have emerged against this antibiotic. But now, with the recent reports, it has become evident that this resistance can spread easily between different types of bacteria. This is very alarming and the world needs to wake up and take note.

From the very first day of the discovery of penicillin, it has been a continuous competition between scientists and bacteria. It’s a battle science alone cannot win: as soon as you use antibiotics, bacteria will start to find a way to resist them. Many so-called last-resort antibiotics have become useless in treating serious infections.

There is not an easy answer, but we must ask why this happens so quickly. The easiest and most frequent culprit is that we use too many antibiotics and extremely carelessly.

A simple but horrifying example was recently published: 70 per cent of people visiting a GP in the US for an acute respiratory infection such as simple flu get an antibiotic prescription which is absolutely unnecessary, as these infections are mostly caused by viruses. The lay public is as much to blame as we physicians: 50 per cent of patients expect an antibiotic with simple respiratory symptoms and put pressure on doctors to prescribe them.

Antibiotic consumption is much higher in animals and agriculture than in human patients. Untreated waste containing a high concentration of antimicrobials can pollute the environment and create highly resistant bacteria.

In all cases, bacteria exposed to high-level antibiotics can become resistant, then spread to humans.

We have no new antibiotics at present and will not have any in the near future.

A multi-institutional and multifactorial strategy should be implemented immediately by global parties including, but not restricted to governments, politicians, scientists, professional societies and the pharmaceutical industry.

Professor Murat Akova, President, European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease, Ankara

Last stand of the climate deniers

There is an almost total media blackout as to the cause of the recent floods (“Like my family on Boxing Day, the Government is cut off from reality over flooding”, 28 December). This is because right-wing newspapers have been in denial about global warming over the past decade, which makes it virtually impossible for them to change position without losing the last vestiges of their credibility.

Then there is the BBC, struggling to find a middle way between the scientists and the sceptics. On the one hand you have an outstanding three-part documentary on Radio 4 by the BBC’s Environment Correspondent, Roger Harrabin, but none of this is followed through by editors on BBC News.

Why are there no interviews with Government ministers challenging their destructive policies towards the renewables industry? Why has the Prime Minister not been asked how he can reconcile the UK’s dash for gas with our climate change commitments?

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

In view of the flooding this Christmas, should the Government still be looking at expansion plans for Gatwick Airport, when the new runway would be built on a floodplain, removing what nature intended to deal with a river that suffers flash flooding? Gatwick flooded on Christmas Eve 2014 and subsequently flooded downstream properties in Sussex and Surrey; Gatwick has known flooding since 1936.

Sally Pavey, Warnham, West Sussex

Given that the average car releases two to three tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, perhaps recent photos of submerged cars in flooded areas could be taken as evidence of nature’s retaliation.

Julien Evans, Chesham, Buckinghamshire

Global threat from livestock

The article by Tom Bawden (24 December) on mass migration and human suffering due to global warming makes sobering reading. What is often overlooked is that the biggest cause of global warming is the methane gas produced by billions of farm animals raised for meat.

Almost 40 per cent of the world’s fresh water is used up in raising these animals. Animals are voracious consumers of water. Over-grazing is turning huge swathes of the earth into deserts. Almost 40 per cent of the world’s cereals are fed to these animals rather then feeding the poor. The billions of tones of waste produced by these animals seep into our waterways causing massive pollution and acid rain which destroy trees. Unless human beings turn away from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet, a catastrophe awaits us. The solution to the global warming crisis is not with international treaties but with each one of us. Let us be the change we want.

Nitin Mehta, Croydon, Surrey

Don’t blame Rhodes for apartheid

While the Oriel College authorities consult over the matter of Cecil Rhodes’s statue, those advocating its removal may care to ponder on the fact that the de facto basis for apartheid was not established until 1909, seven years after Rhodes’s death.

While he was no advocate for equality of the races, it must be recognised that in the Cape, and to a lesser extent in Natal, a proportion of people of colour had the franchise and seats in parliament. It was at the 1909 convention of the Cape, Natal and the two self-governing Boer states of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony that apartheid came into being.

The two Boer states were governed by so-called “bitter enders” Louis Botha and Jan Smuts, both of whom were hardline white supremacists. They also happened to control the two states where gold and diamonds were mined, putting them in the driving-seat when it came to agreeing the terms of the constitution of the proposed Union of South Africa. One of the consequences of the constitution was the loss of all civil rights for people of colour. So, while Rhodes was no high-principled libertarian, neither could he be described as the author of apartheid. If anybody’s statue should be removed, it is the one of Smuts in Parliament Square.

John Crocker, Cheltenham

We should all applaud the advanced thinkers at Oxford who advocate taking a leaf from the Taliban handbook in campaigning for the removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College. And why stop there?

These islands must be fair crammed with offending statuary, so perhaps we should recruit some Isis specialists to seek out and destroy all the dodgy ones in a prolonged campaign of PC historical cleansing.

And where better to start than with the various warmongers and dissolutes bringing shame to Trafalgar Square? Oh, and that should probably be renamed, while we’re about it.

Ian Bartlett, East Molesey, Surrey

Herod had his sensitive side

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s comparison of Isis with Herod the Great in his Christmas sermon really needs to be challenged.

Isis is a loose collection of “death cult” thugs who murder without reason and destroy everything they do not understand – which leaves every iconic building at risk. Herod was the tough Idumean the Romans employed as a “client king” to keep the eternally unruly sub-states of ancient Israel under some measure of control.

He did so with neo-Roman brutality but he was also a visionary architect, building harbours and towns throughout the territory, in particular the fabulous port city of Caesarea. In fact, he expanded the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which led to the Talmudic saying: “Whoever has not seen Herod’s Temple has not seen a beautiful building in his life.”

Rev Dr John Cameron, St Andrews

Even cold callers can have some manners

I am all for being polite to any callers, cold or not, phone or door (letter, 21 December). But I think it works a bit like an echo does: would it be too much to ask that they in turn at least say “goodbye” before they put down the phone, instead of cutting in half my inquiry of how I may help them or adding something rude? After all, I put down my work, cleaned my hands, ran to the phone and answered with courtesy.

Sonja Karl, Bangor

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