October 28, 2014
Honourable senators, one day earlier this year, international news headlines were dominated by a single phrase: “the post-antibiotic era.” The World Health Organization had just released its first global report on antibiotic resistance, and the results were grim. The WHO found that antibiotic resistance is no longer a projection for the future but an urgent and serious threat to public health.
The report used data from 114 countries and focused on seven different bacteria responsible for common serious diseases, including pneumonia, urinary tract infections and bloodstream infections such sepsis. The international scope of this report is critical. Indeed, some resistant bacteria tracked by the WHO can be found in every region of the world.
Honourable senators, this is an era in which common infections and minor injuries threaten lives. In many ways, it is a return to the pre-antibiotic era when a scrape or cut could be fatal.
How do we begin to tackle this enormous problem? The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology heard significant testimony on this issue during our study on the unintended consequences of prescription pharmaceuticals. Witnesses expressed concern that antibiotics are overprescribed and overused in Canada, in both human and animal populations. Witnesses explained that Canadians may be unaware of the difference between a bacterial infection and a viral infection and often request antibiotics to fight a common cold or flu.
The committee heard that prescribers and dispensers also have a role to play to ensure antibiotics are not misused. Witnesses discussed the potential to develop new antibiotics and the need to encourage research and development in this area.
The committee was particularly struck by reports that anywhere from 40 per cent to 80 per cent of antibiotic use in food-producing animals are unnecessary. In fact, we learned that antibiotics are used extensively in Canada to promote growth and enhance feed efficiency.
Honourable senators, the unnecessary use of antibiotics in both humans and animals is driving us closer to the post-antibiotic era. We can help stop the spread of resistant bacteria by preventing people from getting infections in the first place. Vaccines, cleanliness and other prevention programs help reduce antibiotic use in hospitals, long-term care facilities and the community. This reduction begins with a concerted effort to educate both health professionals and the public.
National Infection Control Week is one opportunity to ensure that this message reaches Canadians. It gives infection control professionals a chance to educate staff and the community about the importance of prevention. Please join me in recognizing that last week, October 20 to 26, was National Infection Control Week.