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  • Experts say superbugs pose "critical risk to humanity"

    Author: AAP

Australian infectious disease experts say better infection control and increased surveillance of superbugs is what is needed while new drugs are developed.

The relatively simple treatment of a common yet potentially deadly stomach condition, made possible because of two Australian Nobel laureates, is under threat by a "high priority" superbug.

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Helicobacter Pylori (H.pylori) was on Tuesday listed by the World Health Organisation as one of 12 bacterium posing the greatest threat to human health because of their resistance to antibiotics.

It was named by WHO among six bacterium considered to be of high priority in the battle against antimicrobial resistance.

H. pylori is a bacteria that can affect the stomach and is the most common cause of gastritis and peptic ulcers.

A peptic ulcer is a break in the lining of the stomach which if not treated with antibiotics can lead to internal bleeding and in some cases cancer.

The role the bacteria plays in the formation of a peptic ulcer was discovered by West Australian Professors Barry Marshall and Robin Warren.

They found inflammation in the stomach as well as ulceration of the stomach was the result of an infection caused by the H. pylori bacteria.

The remarkable and "unexpected" discovery earned them the Nobel prize for medicine in 2005.

But now that H.pylori has become resistant to antibiotic clarithromycin treatment it's set to become more difficult, says infectious diseases physician Associate Professor Sanjaya Senanayake from Australian National University.

"A lot of people are treated for this infection and clarithromycin is an important part of that and if we are seeing a resistance that's gong to make things trickier," Assoc Prof Senanayake told AAP.

Clarithromycin is also used widely to treat chest infections.

Assoc Prof Senanayake believes the national antimicrobial resistance surveillance body, known as CARAlert, should consider adding this particular bacteria to its alerts.

"In response to the WHO's article today they may want to consider putting H.Pylori on it, so we might increase our response to their alert," he said.

Australian health experts agree the bacterium listed by WHO pose a "critical risk to humanity" and more needs to be done, particularly to protect hospital patients.

"The most worrying group include organisms that infect patients undergoing treatment in hospitals or nursing homes," said Dr Michael Gillings, Professor of Molecular Evolution at Macquarie University.

With estimates projecting the death toll for antibiotic resistant infections to possibly reach 10 million per year by 2050, Dr Gillings says the next generation of antibiotics are urgently needed.
But their development will take time and funding, he warned.

"In the meantime, we can all play a part by using existing antibiotics wisely and by better infection control."


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