The Drugs Don’t Work by Professor Dame Sally Davies, a Penguin Special that publishes this week, is a treaty from the UK’s top doctor explaining that resistance to our current range of antibiotics is the new inconvenient truth. If we don't act now, we risk the health of our parents, our children and our grandchildren.
In this book, Chief Medical Officer Professor Davies, draws attention to this potentially devastating story. She provides a scientific overview on microbes and how they can cause human disease; she identifies the different treatment options; and she examines how the rules of evolution mean the bugs are constantly adapting to those treatments. But more importantly she explains what can be done about this global threat, which is just as important and deadly as climate change and international terrorism.
We've pulled out ten, frankly terrifying, facts from the book:
- Antibiotics add, on average, 20 years to everyone's lives.
- Since the manufacture of penicillin in 1943, for over 70 years we have survived extraordinary operations and life-threatening infections. The truth is that we have been abusing them: as patients; as doctors; as travellers; in our food.
- No new class of antibiotic has been discovered for 26 years and the bugs are fighting back.
- 25,000 people a year in Europe alone are already dying of resistant bugs – killing as many people as road accidents.
- 1,000 different bacterial species can be found within the human intestine alone. The total weight of bacteria within the human gut can be as much as 2 kg.
- In 2011, 55 million people died out of a global population of 6.9 billion. About 10 million, roughly a fifth, of these deaths were from infectious diseases. 9.5 million were from low- and middle-income countries. Put another way, 40 per cent of all deaths in low income countries were a result of infectious diseases.
- The most common way for spreading bugs is by your hands: we have between 2 and 10 million bacteria between fingertip and elbow. Wash your hands.
- Without urgent action being taken, by 2043 we could be dying from common infections such as a sore throat
- Today, over 35 million courses of antimicrobial drugs are prescribed by family doctors in England each year. Many of these cases are falsely prescribed or demanded by patients
- Antimicrobials are used in some cases to fatten livestock for slaughter, but this can contribute to drug resistance for humans.
Read an extract from the book in The Sunday Times here.