‘Superbugs’ that can overpower antibiotics are spreading: WHO

admin   •   May 1, 2014   •   3048

A sample bottle containing E. coli bacteria is seen at the Health Protection Agency in north London March 9, 2011. CREDIT: REUTERS/SUZANNE PLUNKETT/FILES

(Reuters) – The spread of deadly superbugs that evade even the most powerful antibiotics is no longer a prediction but is happening right now across the world, United Nations officials said on Wednesday.

Antibiotic resistance has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country, the U.N.’s World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a report. It is now a major threat to public health and “the implications will be devastating”.

“We have a big problem now, and all of the trends indicate the problem is going to get bigger, said Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security.

In its first global report on antibiotic resistance, with data from 114 countries, the WHO said superbugs able to evade event the hardest-hitting antibiotics – a class of drugs called carbapenems – have now been found in all regions of the world.

“The world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” Fukuda said. Drug resistance is driven by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, which encourages bacteria to develop new ways of overcoming them.

For gonorrhoea, a dangerous sexually-transmitted disease that infects more than a million people across the world every day, antibiotic treatments are failing fast as superbug forms of the bacteria that causes it outpace them.

At least 10 countries – including Austria, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia and Sweden, now report having patients with gonorrhoea that is totally untreatable.

Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and brought to market in the past few decades, and it is a race against time to find more as bacterial infections increasingly evolve into “superbugs” resistant to even the most powerful last-resort medicines reserved for extreme cases.

One of the best known superbugs, MRSA, is alone estimated to kill around 19,000 people every year in the United States – far more than HIV and AIDS – and a similar number in Europe.

DRUGS DON’T WORK

The WHO said in some countries, because of resistance, carbapenems now do not work in more than half of people with common hospital-acquired infections caused by a bacteria called K. pneumoniae, such as pneumonia, blood infections, and infections in newborn babies and intensive-care patients.

Resistance to one of the most widely used antibiotics for urinary tract infections caused by E. coli – medicines called fluoroquinolones – is also very widespread, the WHO said.

In the 1980s, when these drugs were first introduced, resistance was virtually zero, according to the WHO report. But now there are countries in many parts of the world where the drugs are ineffective in more than half of patients.

“Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating,” Fukuda said in a statement.

Laura Piddock, director of the Antibiotic Action campaign group and a professor of microbiology at Britain’s Birmingham University, said the world needed to respond as it did to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

“Defeating drug resistance will require political will, commitment from all stakeholders and considerable investment in research, surveillance and stewardship programmes,” she said.

Jennifer Cohn of the international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières agreed with the WHO’s assessment and confirmed the problem had spread to many corners of the world.

“We see horrendous rates of antibiotic resistance wherever we look in our field operations,” she said.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Fire in Liberia school kills at least 27 children

Robie de Guzman   •   September 19, 2019

A fire at an Islamic school in Liberia has killed at least 27 children, police said on Wednesday (September 18).

The police spokesman Moses Carter said the blaze was caused by an electrical issue and the kids were learning the Koran when the fire broke out. He added that further investigations were ongoing.

Carter had originally said 30 children were killed before revising the death toll down to 27. Two survivors were taken to the hospital, he said.

The fire started late on Tuesday (September 17) in the suburbs of the capital Monrovia, President George Weah said in a tweet.

“My prayers go out to the families of the children that died last night in Paynesville City,” Weah said. “This is a tough time for the families of the victims and all of Liberia.”

It is common for buildings to collapse in blazes linked to faulty electrics in Liberia’s big cities, however, these are rarely deadly. (Reuters)

(Production: Soraya Ali)

India becomes latest country to ban sale of e-cigarettes

Robie de Guzman   •   September 19, 2019

India became the latest country after Brazil and Thailand to ban the sale of e-cigarettes in what could potentially be the biggest move against vaping globally over growing health concerns.

The ban, which also covers the production, import and advertising of e-cigarettes, cuts off a huge future market from e-cigarette makers at a time when the number of people smoking worldwide is declining.

“There has been a 77 percent increase in addiction of e-cigarettes among school-going or college-going young adults, teenagers, and children because nicotine addiction is quick and it is harmful as well,” Indian Secretary of Health and Family Welfare Preeti Sudan said.

India has 106 million smokers, second only to China.

The ban could also dash the expansion plans of companies such as Altria, backed Juul Labs, and Philip Morris International into the country.

“$150 billion opportunity, now that’s what is estimated, the nicotine market is going to be, why are we denying our farmers that, why are we denying our citizens a right to a less harmful product, these are questions that I would really like to ask the government,” Praveen Rikhy, Trade Representatives of endsin India said. (Reuters)

(Production: Soraya Ali)

Facebook unveils new Portal video chat, TV streaming devices

Robie de Guzman   •   September 19, 2019

Facebook Inc. unveiled new models of its Portal video chatting devices on Wednesday (September 18), making the company’s first foray into TV streaming hardware but offering a limited selection of subscription services.

The launch comes as Facebook is trying to pivot toward more private forms of communication, after years of slowing user growth, data-sharing scandals and calls for change to its hands-off approach to content moderation.

The company is already one of the biggest global players in private messaging, with its WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram apps used by 2.4 billion people each month.

It is keeping the focus of its new Portal line on video calling, adding the capability for WhatsApp calls along with improvements to a wide-angle camera that keeps users in focus as they move about a room.

Facebook is also expanding Portal sales into countries including the UK, France and Australia, while lowering prices to more closely compete with industry-leading smart speakers from Amazon and Google that sell for under $100.

Standard models of the Portal, which ship on Oct. 15, will come in $129 and $179 versions. Portal TV will cost $149 and hit the shelves on Nov. 5.

Facebook is hoping the social nature of its products will be their selling point, allowing users to watch shows together while interacting via video call on the same screen.

“I think that in a couple years’ time, if you have a smart streaming device that doesn’t have a camera allowing you to video call people, you’re not going to have a competitive product,” said vice president of AR/VR Andrew Bosworth. “I think this is the killer feature for a device like this.”

Bosworth also touted privacy protections like local processing of smart features on the devices, which means most user data will not be sent back to Facebook servers.

But Portal TV offers only a few music apps and has limited options for TV programming, meaning it could face a stiff challenge in attracting consumers used to content-rich rivals like Apple TV, Netflix and Roku.

At a demonstration in San Francisco on Tuesday, the only way to stream shows appeared to be via Facebook’s Watch app. Executives said Portal TV would have Amazon’s Prime Video app loaded by the time it is available.

The company declined to say whether it had approached other content providers like HBO, Hulu or Disney.

Facebook does not disclose how many Portals it has sold since the device’s launch late last year, but hardware accounts for a tiny slice of the company’s total sales.

The social media giant makes less than 2 percent of its revenue from non-advertising sources. (Reuters)

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