In spite of the development of effective antibiotics and vaccines in the 20th century, the battle against infectious diseases is far from being won. The start of the 21st century heralds an era of challenges as new diseases, such as SARS, arise and others, such as tuberculosis, re-emerge due to antimicrobial drug resistance. Globally, respiratory infections, AIDS, diarrhoeal diseases, tuberculosis and malaria are the leading killers among the infectious diseases, which together kill over 12 million people annually.
In all these diseases, resistance to first-line drugs has been observed and in some cases the level of resistance has forced a change to more expensive second or third-line agents. When resistance against these also emerges, the world will run out of treatment options, effectively returning us to a pre-antibiotic era. This is not only a concern for the developing world but also presents serious problems for the developed world. In the UK, the incidence of Staphylococcus aureus infections has more than doubled over the last decade, and now nearly half of these infections are resistant to methicillin treatment (MRSA).
There is only one effective antibiotic for treating MRSA infections, vancomycin, but strains resistant to this drug have already appeared. Often these infections occur whilst patients are receiving treatment within the hospital and form part of a much larger problem of hospital acquired infections that afflict more than 100,000 patients, leading to 5,000 deaths, and costs to the NHS of more than £1 billion each year. As resistance increases this situation will be exacerbated, leading to upwardly spiralling treatment costs, ultimately undermining our ability to treat infections and save lives.
The Infectious Diseases Group was established in 2001 with the remit of developing research interests that would address some of the challenges for treating infectious diseases in the future.
University of Durham, Queen's Campus
Stockton on Tees