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GPs targeted in national plan to curb antibiotic resistance

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GPs will be targeted over their antibiotic prescription practices as part of a national strategy to tackle the threat from rising antibiotic resistance.

Less than 10 days after researchers sounded the alarm over the arrival in Australia of a superbug capable of overcoming the last line of defence against salmonella infection, the Federal Government has detailed its plans to implement the National Antibiotic Resistance Strategy.

Health Minister Sussan Ley said the inaugural plan, covering the period 2015-19, had as one of its main targets reduced recourse to antibiotics by GPs.

“A particular focus will be Australia’s high use of antibiotics in general practice, which is 20 per cent above the OECD average,” Ms Ley said. “Bringing prescribing rates down is critical, as high antibiotic use is the number one driver of the increasing resistance to antimicrobials.”

Despite this focus Ms Ley, who launched the strategy in conjunction with Agriculture Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, said the plan encompassed a broad “one health” approach which recognised the inextricable links between human, animal and ecosystem health.

“[This means] that combating resistance to antimicrobials requires action in all sectors where antimicrobials are used,” the Health Minister said.

The plan calls for, among other things, better support for doctors and vets in educating patients about the need for care in antibiotic use; the implementation of effective stewardship practices among health professionals; improved national surveillance of antibiotic use; better infection control measures; and intensified research efforts.

The plan has been developed amid mounting international alarm regarding the threat posed by antibiotic resistance. A recent British Government report warned the world was on track to a future in which even common infections and medical procedures could become potentially deadly because of the risk of infection.

The UK report estimated that antimicrobial resistance could kill 10 million a year by 2050, and cost the world a cumulative USD$100 trillion in reduced economic output without effective action to slow the rate of drug resistance.

The threat to Australia has escalated following the discovery by Murdoch University researchers of a strain of the Salmonella bug that is resistant to carbapenems, the drug used as the last line of defence against such infections.

The superbug was discovered in a pet cat admitted to Concord Veterinary Hospital in New South Wales with an upper respiratory tract infection that subsequently developed into a gut infection.

A sample of the infection sent to a team of researchers at the Concord Hospital identified a strain of Salmonella never before seen in the country. It was found to be carrying the highly resistant IMP-4 gene.

A further three animals at the veterinary clinics were also found to be infected with the superbug. The outbreak has been contained.

Dr Abraham said the identification and containment of the bacteria was “an example of Australia’s One Health capabilities, where animal and human health specialists work together to prevent the spread of infection”.

Adrian Rollins