Some of the brightest minds in global health have met in Brisbane. They have met to discuss the fight against antibiotic resistance, a problem which threatens our ability to treat common infectious diseases. House Call Doctor wrote about this recently in an article about superbugs.

More than 250 people participated in the University of Queensland-hosted Solutions for Drug-Resistant Infections (SDRI) conference to discuss solutions to drug-resistant infections.

What is a drug-resistant infection?

The creation of antibiotics was one of the most important medical breakthroughs in human history. But as the years progressed a growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhea – have become harder to treat because the antibiotics have become less effective.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when the bacteria that causes infections changes in response to the use of antibiotics. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), antibiotic resistance happens naturally, but the misuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals is accelerating the process.

When bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics, it means that people have to stay in hospital for longer. This results in higher medical costs and an increased risk of mortality.

In some places you can buy antibiotics for human or animal use without a prescription. In these places the problem is becoming worse. This also occurs in countries without standard treatment guidelines, where antibiotics are often over-prescribed by health workers and veterinarians.

The WHO warns that without urgent action, we are heading for “a post-antibiotic era”. This means common infections and minor injuries can once again be deadly.

What is being done about antibiotic resistance?

UQ Centre for Superbug Solutions researcher Dr Mark Blaskovich said antibiotic resistance was an international problem so it was important to integrate global research efforts and expertise.

“Drug-resistant infections are one of the greatest challenges facing global human health,” he said.

“Coordination and collaboration can help ensure that new approaches to track, treat and prevent drug-resistant infections can be developed and applied to save lives here and abroad.”

England’s chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies was one of the speakers at the conference. She agreed that the solution lies in international cooperation.

“AMR is an issue that affects every country so we must all act together,” she said.

“As part of my new role on the UN interagency coordination group on antimicrobial resistance, I will be working with governments and experts across the world, including here in Australia. I will make sure we work together to avert a global catastrophe.”

Professor Davies said drug-resistant infections already kill millions of people around the world. If we don’t acts now, it will get worse.

“Cancer treatments would be more risky and surgeries such as hip replacements and caesarean sections could become life-threateningly dangerous.”

What can doctors and patients do to combat antibiotic resistance?

The use of antibiotics needs to be monitored and changed as well as the way they are being prescribed.

In order to stop antibiotic resistance its not as simple as developing new medicines. Behavioural change must also play a part.

The WHO also recommends reducing the spread of infections. Vaccination, hand washing and safe sex are just some of the things you can do to reduce the spread of infections. It is also important to never antibiotics unless prescribed by a doctor.