European Nations Consider
Threat Of Epidemics
From Resistant Bacteria
By Slim Allagui

COPENHAGEN (AFP-Reuters) - Experts from 35 countries meet in Denmark this week to discuss one of the greatest threats to human and animal health, the growing resistance of disease-carrying bacteria to antibiotics.
Some 300 government delegates, researchers, doctors, vets and representatives of pharmaceutical companies will gather Wednesday and Thursday at Lyngby, north of Copenhagen.
It is the first international conference on a problem of increasing concern, particularly as the hardened germs are spreading rapidly from country to country.
The meeting on "The Microbial Threat" planned since last year by medical chiefs from the European Union is expected to announce measures to counter the problem, which results in patients taking longer to get well, at greater expense, or failing to recover at all.
The blame is pinned fairly and squarely on the overuse of antibiotics to fight disease.
Dr. Vibeke Rosdahl of the Danish state serological institute said an investigation covering 19,000 patients in 19 European countries showed that in certain hospitals 50 percent of bacteria were resistant.
This compared with one percent in hospitals in the Nordic states of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
"There is a clear link between the use of antibiotics in hospitals and the emergence of resistant bacteria," Rosdahl said. "In many countries inside and outside Europe, the consumption of antibiotics is three times that in Scandinavia."
In some hospitals the figure is ten times more, Rosdahl said, adding: "It is this overconsumption which threatens the health of patients in the world."
Professor Fernando Baquero of the Center of Microbiology in Madrid, one of the main speakers at the upcoming conference, also rang the alarm bells recently.
"The present development in antibiotics resistant bacteria may return us to stage one, before the invention of antibiotics," he warned. "The reason is that it may take up to ten years to find new effective antibiotics and another ten years to test the new medicine.
"In the meantime, the scale of resistance will develop so extensively that it will be a threat to world health."
Some European countries have a daily consumption of more than one ton of antibiotics for human and animal treatment, statistics show.
The most recent figures for some of the most important antibiotics used to combat staphylococcal infections indicate that the development of resistance is a real threat.
In 20 surveyed centers around the world, only the four Nordic countries had multiresistance below two percent, while in Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Colorado (USA) Lithuania and New Zealand it was between five and 20 percent.
In Belgium, California, Kuwait, South Africa and Spain bacteria resistance levels were at between 20 and 40 percent, while in Greece, Malaysia, New Jersey and Poland they were above 40 percent.
In Scandinavia, the authorities are trying to insulate their countries against multiresistance, isolating on arrival in hospital all patients and hospital staff who have been hospitalized or worked outside Scandinavia, Rosdahl said.
A patient will only be treated like others once it has been confirmed that he or she does not carry multiresistant bacteria from abroad. So far this policy has prevented the spread of multiresistance and larger epidemics.
Bacteria are not restricted by frontiers, brought across by sick people or medical workers, or in food products. The use of certain antibiotics to promote the growth of farm animals is also a growing danger, as resistant bacteria can be passed on in the food chain.