An unprecedented health-care crisis is here and will worsen every year, with up to 400,000 casualties expected in the next 30 years.
The Council of Canadian Academies expert panel report, When Antibiotics Fail, was released on Tuesday with this ominous warning: “There have been few health crises on this scale in Canadian history.”
The truly disturbing part of the report is the view that, if overuse of antibiotics is not reined in, and if the medical community does not create new, effective drugs, Canada runs the risk of returning to the medical Dark Ages — the pre-antibiotic era.
Brett Finlay, a microbiology professor at UBC who chaired the panel, said time is of the essence, telling the Canadian Press the problem is big, if not bigger, than climate change due to the fact the medical crisis is impacting so many people.
Aside from lost lives, the report notes the increase in bacterial infections resistant to treatment is expected to increase to 40 per cent by 2050 from the 26 per cent rate in 2018, costing Canada $120 billion in hospital expenses and $388 billion in gross domestic product over the next three decades. While the report has recommendations for government — improved stewardship involving careful use of antimicrobials to preserve their effectiveness, strict infection prevention and control through hand hygiene, equipment cleaning and research and innovation for new treatments — there are basic tasks everyone can do in an effort to mitigate the problem.
Hand-washing is easy and effective, with myriad studies noting simple water and soap can go a long way in fending off the spread of superbugs. Health authorities in B.C. perform audits on hand-washing in hospitals. The last audit reported on by KTW, in 2012, found the hand-washing compliance rate at Royal Inland Hospital to be at about 70 per cent, based on observations of hand-washing practices before and after staff visited with patients.
The goal, of course, is to get to 100 per cent and that can be done easily if every person entering a hospital, and every staff member interacting with patients, simply washes their hands with soap and water.
It may not prevent the medical disaster upon us, but it certainly can and will protect you and those with whom you are in contact.