Professor urges conservation and innovation to stop antibiotic-resistant superbugs

TORONTO – In the wake of a new report that predicts the deaths of nearly 400,000 Canadians in the next 30 years to antibiotic-resistant superbugs, a Canadian academic is urging the government and pharmaceutical companies to do more.

Steve Hoffman, professor of global health at York University, spoke to CTV News Channel on Sunday about how the increasing use of antibiotics is failing to keep up with evolving superbugs.

Hoffman called on the government to bring in legislation so that antibiotics are used appropriately.

“The concern is that our antibiotics are increasingly not working against the infections that we’ve long depended upon,” he said.

“The challenge is that every time that we use an antibiotic we’re actually increasing the pace in which bacteria are evolving and becoming resistant.”

He warned that 26 per cent of all infections in Canada are already resistant to first-line treatment.

“This is a failed market. Why would a pharmaceutical company invest so much money to develop a new antibiotic that a few years later won’t work?” he questioned.

Earlier this month, the Council of Canadian Academies released “When Antibiotics Fail: The growing cost of antimicrobial resistance in Canada,” a report that predicts antimicrobial resistance could kill nearly 400,000 Canadians over the next three decades and cost the economy about $400 billion.

Hoffman said there are three things the government could do to fight back.

“First, we need to conserve these antibiotics. This is a precious resource,” he said.

“If every time we use it, it speeds up resistance that means we need to be very careful about when we use it.”

Secondly, he suggested innovation. This would include research and development for new products, as well as products that would reduce the need for antibiotics.

“And three, we need to promote access to these products particularly for people in low- and middle-income countries where millions of people are dying because they don’t have access to these products.”

Hoffman advised Canadians to take their flu shot, use antibiotics as instructed and reduce infection by hand washing and getting vaccinated.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also suggests:

• Avoiding handling food or touching shared objects when sick

• Staying home until you feel better

• Keeping shared surfaces in your home clean

• Safely storing, handling and preparing food, including thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw

• Avoiding resistant sexually transmitted infections by practicing safe sex

• Ensuring your vaccinations are up to date

• Regularly testing well water 

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