Action needed to curb misuse of antibiotics that creates superbugs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 May, 2016, 12:18am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 May, 2016, 12:17am

In 2014, the South China Morning Post reported that in 2013, every 18 minutes, a new patient was found to be infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria (also known as superbugs) in Hong Kong public hospitals, for which the therapeutic options were limited.

With an ageing population and the overcrowding of public hospitals, the problems of superbugs in the SAR have got worse (“Hong Kong superbug surge prompts fears over ‘big gun’ antibiotics”, April 28).

The public hospitals have made efforts to address the problems, for example, screening patients who spent time in hospitals outside Hong Kong for the superbugs (that are often asymptomatic) and isolate the infected cases. But resources should also be prioritised to make rapid diagnostic testing facilities available for public hospital doctors who can avoid oversubscribing antibiotics with more timely diagnosis information.

In addition, more efforts should be made to promote vaccination in the city as an alternative solution to antibiotics.

What is more challenging is to deal with the misuse of antibiotics in agriculture worldwide, which consumes half of the world’s annual production of antibiotics.

In response to Consumers International’s demand to take antibiotics off the menu, McDonald’s in the US has agreed to stop serving chicken that was treated by antibiotics for growth promotion. But large restaurant chains in Hong Kong have not responded to similar calls made by the local Consumer Council.

More pressure from the public is necessary to hold the city’s restaurants accountable for serving food grown with antibiotics and offering bacteria countless opportunities to evolve into lethal superbugs.

Stronger demand for antibiotic-free food products in Hong Kong may help curb the agricultural misuse of antibiotics on the mainland and worldwide.

Since penicillin was first used to treat infections in 1941, the miracle drugs have saved millions of lives from diseases that were often fatal in the pre-antibiotics world. Yet, mankind has since squandered the wonder drugs, thereby accelerating the evolution of superbugs.

If we do not take action now, the world may soon enter the post-antibiotics era when minor cuts and scrapes could lead to fatal infections caused by superbugs for which there is no cure.

Simon Wang, Kowloon Tong